For me, today is one of those days you know you’ll always remember. Because today is the day I became a published author, something that’s been on my life list for as long as I can remember. (I don’t count my award-winning but unpublished first grade book, When I Went to Walt Disney World, which was a work of fiction, as I didn’t get to Disney until post-college.)
Today, Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny Way is officially out in the world!
And because the book was made possible in large part by YOU, today I’m sharing some of the behind-the-scenes details and answering reader questions as thanks for your support in making my dream come true. (Seriously, thank you!)
If you want to know more about the book itself, including how it’s different from other early retirement books out there, check out this post. And if you want to read my initial announcement from last spring, this is the post you want.
Stay tuned until the end of today’s post, because I’ve got another big thank you to share!
If you’re interested in ordering the book – available in paperback, ebook and audiobook – here are some links:
- Order now from Amazon
- Order audiobook now from Audible
- Order now from Barnes & Noble
- Order now from Powells City of Books
- Order now from Indie Bound
- Order now from Apple iBooks
- Order now from Google Play
- Order now from Kobo
- Order now from eBooks
And now let’s get to questions that you sent in!
What was the hardest part of writing a book?
I assumed that writing a book would be super hard. Yes, I’ve been writing regularly and at length about early retirement for years, but the mythology surrounding book-writing makes it out to be this super tortured process, and I assumed I’d have that experience. Turns out… nope. BUT, that’s because I spent almost a year writing the proposal for the book (here’s an overview of what goes into a book proposal – it’s detailed!), and that part was hard. So I’d say the hardest part of the process preceded writing the actual book. In terms of the book itself, the hardest part is definitely the fact that it’s final and I can’t change anything. I’m super happy to be able to say that I love the finished product, and it accomplishes everything I hoped it would – being friendly to both beginners and early retirement enthusiasts, being inclusive to people with a range of incomes and financial starting points, and letting readers choose what they value rather than me telling them what they should value – but there’s always something you’d tinker with and tweak, and I can’t do that. I change the fonts on this blog a few times a year, and recently changed the header… can’t do that with a book! Final means final.
Her book takes a practical approach to this pie-in-the-sky goal [of early retirement], however much one might earn. She outlines procedures for saving for a full early retirement but also for partial retirement or just a career sabbatical for those with fewer financial resources. She walks the reader through every aspect of this planning, from figuring out your true annual budget to where to invest for the greatest likelihood of steady passive income later on.
―New York Post
What are the main differences between writing your blog and writing your book in terms of process, satisfaction, time, reason for doing it?
They were actually super different! Writing on the internet needs to be skimmable, and everyone will tell you to use lots of headers and bullets, all things that destroy the narrative in a book. So I had to adjust my writing stylistically. But content-wise, it was also super different. A blog post is generally one thought, or at least one theme, but in a book you need to cover a ton of thoughts and themes. I’d never strung together my entire theory of early retirement money and life before, but the book forced me to do that, and I’m glad it did! A big surprise was that, even in 288 pages, you can’t go super in-depth on any one topic, because you need to cover so much, so there are plenty of things I’ve discussed in much more detail on the blog than I could in the book. I also found that, in the initial writing phases, I needed to blog as little as possible, because I kept confusing myself with what was in the book and what was on the blog, but as I went through subsequent phases of the process, it all crystalized for me what I’d written about where. In terms of time, I wrote the first full draft of the manuscript in about four weeks, so I think my words-per-hour rate was faster than when blogging – mostly thanks to spending a whole year writing that proposal, so I knew what I needed to write in each section. And satisfaction… it’s hard to say! The blog gives me a ton of opportunity to interact with people, which is my favorite part, but the book is putting something out into the offline world, which is special in a different way. We’ll see!
Would you do it again and write another book?
I would 100% write another book! I loved the process – the research, the writing, the intense focus on something deeper than a blog post. My goal remains to sell enough copies that I earn out my book advance, which means that it’s likely publishers would let me write another book. If I start earning royalties, I’ll donate them to charity, so it’s not about money. It’s just about being able to do something I love again. (That said, I’m soooo thankful that I was able to do this after retiring. I can’t imagine writing or promoting a book while also working full-time, because you kind of need to let it consume you.)
What bits got edited out that you really wanted to keep?
Surprisingly, almost nothing has been edited out! Several portions have for sure been improved by helpful feedback from my editor and agent, including making the early retirement math more accessible to people who don’t spend their free time building out endless iterations of spreadsheets. And much of the book has been tightened, of course. But I was lucky that they liked everything I wrote, especially given that I was on a super accelerated publication timeline of 362 days from book deal to pub day (most books are a year and a half to two years from deal to publication).
Is working with an editor (compared to going it alone on the blog) fun and helpful or not?
I was nervous at first about working with an editor, especially because my editor has edited some very serious and important books like John Lewis’s autobiography. There’s plenty of snobbery in the literary world, and there are lots of “novels are the only books that count” types who will tell you, to your face, that your book is not a real book. (Or, my favorite dis: “Well that’s not a book book.”) I was a little concerned that a how-to book would be treated differently, but everyone at my publisher, Hachette Books, was wonderful. They all understood what I was trying to do and how that’s different from what else is out there (what several friends have dubbed the “choose your own adventure” approach), they gave me tons of support and they didn’t try to push me to make the book or our story (not the focus of the book, by the way) into something it’s not. My editor Krishan absolutely made the book better because she’s super smart and thoughtful, but also because she’s not remotely a math person, and she helped me see where I was asking too much of non-mathy readers. Something really important that I learned along the way is that the lengthiness of the whole process is ultimately a good thing. I turned in my first full manuscript in June, and I didn’t get back initial edits until August. That gave me two months to gain some distance, and when I looked at it again with my editor’s notes in August, I could see it with fresh eyes, which really helped me see what needed tweaking. Then I sent back rewrites, and I got it again in October with copyedits and final notes, and my task was to make as few edits at that point as possible. But again, I’d gained two months of distance, and could see better what changes it still needed than I could have if I’d tried to do every round in quick succession. So yes, ultimately I’m super glad that I worked with an editor!
Are you glad you published the book traditionally instead of self-publishing it?
Related to the last answer, yes! I’m so glad I got to publish traditionally, with a large publisher, and didn’t try to self-publish. The book is absolutely better for it, and I’ve gotten a lot more support with publicity and marketing than I otherwise would have. Plus, as a book nerd, it’s also super validating to have a big publisher want to work with you… you know I love those gold stars!
What caught you most off-guard as you transitioned to writing a book?
It definitely threw me how long each stage of the process took, but that was ultimately a good thing. But probably the biggest thing was that the first thing I submitted, the draft of my first three chapters, required a lot of reworking. The content was fine, but I was writing like a blogger: breaking up the narrative with lots of headers, chatting too much with the reader. (That was a big thing that stuck in my head for a while, when my editor said it was too chatty.) It took me a while to figure out how to stay true to my voice but adjust for a different format. I think I struck that balance, but you’ll have to let me know. ;-)
What were your biggest priorities when writing?
Several things! Like on the blog, I wanted to tell the complete truth and not oversell early retirement, either making it sound easier than it is to achieve or making it sound accessible to absolutely anyone. I wanted to tell the truth about early retired life. I wanted to make life the focus, and not just money. I wanted to be more inclusive, so that more people – lower earners, parents, single people, those older than their 30s or 40s – could see themselves in the book. And I wanted to give people a ton of choices about how to plan for early retirement, from whether to aim for full early retirement at all or instead something like semiretirement to choosing for yourself what you value instead of only spending money on things approved by the frugality police. Ultimately, that’s what the book truly is: a guide to determining what you value most in both money and life.
What aspects of your journey did you want to ensure shone through?
The book really isn’t about our journey, per se, but I do share bits of it to help anchor the narrative and show that we’ve been through what the reader is going through. But I really wanted to make it clear that work isn’t bad, and that work itself isn’t the problem. That’s why the book is called Work Optional, and not something like Quit Work Forever. I enjoy working more now than I ever have, because it’s totally separated from money and necessity, and it’s something I can do purely for joy. I think everyone’s aim should be to work on your own terms, not to never work again.
I’m sure that you had a clue about how much work it would be, but what were the main driving forces to write the book so soon after “retiring early”? Your why and why so soon, if you will.
To be honest, it all happened sooner than I would have chosen! I’d hoped to write a book about early retirement, but wasn’t even thinking I’d do a thing until after we quit, meaning I wouldn’t get an agent or start writing a book proposal until post-retirement, so I’d maybe just now have a book deal and the book would be out in a year or more from this point. But an editor came to me when I still had nearly a year of work left and expressed interest, and that led to getting an agent quickly, and then the proposal work began. We sent the proposal out on submission right after we got back from Taiwan last January, and by February I had a deal with a first deadline in April. And my publication date was originally March 26, but that moved up six weeks after it was clear what a big moment early retirement is having in the media right now. I definitely don’t regret it one bit, but it didn’t happen exactly how I would have planned it. But as with anything in life, when there’s a huge opportunity in front of you to do something you’ve always dreamed of, you take the leap whether you feel ready or not, and whether the timing feels ideal or not.
Put some tangible numbers to the writing experience: estimated total hours spent on each of planning, drafting, editing, proof reading; number of drafts/iterations between the first “I’m done” moment at the end of the first draft, and the final product.
Numbers it is! The book happened in seven real rounds: 1. Write the first draft of the proposal. 2. Finalize the proposal with agent input. 3. Write the first three chapters. 4. Write the first full manuscript with editor notes. 5. Rewrites based on more notes. 6. Final edits and copyedit review. 7. Final review of typeset text and designed graphics (charts, etc.). More or less, each round took less time than the round that preceded it. The first draft of the proposal took almost a year, and final proposal edits took about a month. The first three chapters took me two months to write. The first full manuscript took about four weeks. I had just over a week for rewrites (shorter than usual because I didn’t need to make major developmental changes), and about as long to review copy edits, then only a few days to do final look. The first full manuscript was 75,000 words, and the final version was closer to 80,000. I average about 1000 words an hour when writing. And I printed the full book out seven times (sorry trees!), because I found that I read and edit better when I’m looking at paper, not a screen. From starting to write for real to my final approval was almost exactly eight months.
Money stuff! How many copies do you need to sell to earn out? After that how much will you earn per book?
I’m not allowed to share money stuff, but it’s safe to say that book advances are rarely a life-changing amount of money. Here’s a good article that gets into how advances work, and the sizes they tend to be. Here’s another. And in truth I haven’t calculated how many books I need to sell to earn out my advance, but I do need the book to sell if I want to write more. If I earn out the advance, any royalties will go directly to charity or our donor advised fund, so I won’t personally earn anything. ;-)
Book tours aren’t generally profitable anymore unless you’re already famous, so they’re not something publishers generally organize for you. If you see authors going on a book tour, that’s something they’re taking upon themselves to organize and fund, and I don’t know if you know this, but I’m retired. ;-) Haha. But seriously, it’s a ton of work! So no official tour, but I will be doing events to coincide with our travels. Stay tuned! (The blog sidebar always has info on planned events, so it’s a good idea to check in there periodically!)
How did you adapt your writing process from writing twice-weekly blog posts to a book? Were there different habits or changes in your mindset that were necessary?
In many ways, the process of going from writing blog posts to writing a whole book was a lot like what I ask readers to do in the book! Writing a blog is focusing on what’s right in front of you, or what’s on your mind in that moment. That’s what it should be! It’s a chronicle of your thoughts and concerns just as much as it is a chronicle of your life. Most of us are stuck in that right-in-front-of-us thinking day to day, and don’t take the big step back to look at all of life and what we want out of it. Writing a book is like taking that step back. I had to ask myself, “What’s everything I want to say, and want to be sure people get out of it, but without putting unnecessary crap in there?” (Sort of like budgeting, actually! So many parallels.) Doing that required a big mindset shift, but once I had my roadmap laid out clearly, it was just writing, which is not so different from blogging.
How did you come to the right balance of sharing your vs. other peoples’ stories?
The book is a how-to guide, and not a memoir of my or our story, nor an in-depth look at others’ stories. I want readers to focus on their own journey and not be drawn to make too many comparisons. So our story and case studies are sprinkled throughout, more like condiments than the main dish, to provide impetus for brainstorming and inspiration, but not to model the “right” way to do something. Because as you may already know, I don’t believe in the idea of the “right way.”
What other questions do you have?
I’ve shared a ton here, but I’m happy to share more! Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter or Instagram, what else you’d like to know about the book!
Extra Special Thanks
Lots of blog friends are giving away copies of Work Optional, and I hope you’ll enter their giveaways, too, if you’re hoping to win a copy! But Our Next Life readers deserve extra love, and so I’m giving away 10 signed and personally addressed copies and I’ll answer a question of your choice for every winner. To enter, simply comment on this post and make sure your email address is attached to the comment, no later than midnight Pacific time on Sunday, February 17, 2019. The book giveaway is only available to addresses in the U.S., but folks in other countries who enter can still get a question answered if you win. If you already have a copy of the book, I hope you’ll enter anyway, because you can then give your spare copy to a friend or family who might benefit, or donate it to your local library. Let’s get this thing into as many hands as possible.
Big thanks to those who pre-ordered! The drawing for the Skype sessions will be next week. Stay tuned to your email to find out if you won.
It’s an incredible thing to have a big life dream come true, but it’s even more meaningful when you know that it was made possible by the support of others, and especially if you have been reading here for a while, you’re a huge part of what made publishers take a chance on me. Your support is what showed them that there was a market for these ideas, and I’ll never be able to thank you enough. But here’s one more anyway: