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How to plan, write, and self-publish your first book [Writing Masterclass with Pamela Wilson]

How to plan, write, and self-publish your first book [Writing Masterclass with Pamela Wilson]

Pamela Wilson, Owner of Big Brand System and author of two bestselling books on content marketing, shares her process for writing and self-publishing books.
Pamela Wilson, Owner of Big Brand System & bestselling author

(This is the first in a four-part series of Writing Masterclasses, led by professional authors and book coaches, focused on writing and publishing your first book. Subscribe to Write With Impact Academy now so you can know when the next edition is out.)

When I first spoke with Pamela Wilson several years ago on my podcast, she was the managing editor of Copyblogger, one of the leading destinations for content marketers and copywriters seeking to hone their craft.

Since then, she has published two highly rated and bestselling books on content marketing: “Master Content Marketing: A Simple Strategy to Cure the Blank Page Blues and Attract a Profitable Audience”, and “Master Content Strategy: How to Maximize Your Reach and Boost Your Bottom Line Every Time You Hit Publish.” And she still writes for Copyblogger.

As the Owner of Big Brand System, Pamela helps mid-career professionals build successful online businesses that generate recurring revenues and profits through her Offer Accelerator program.

In this Writing Masterclass, Pamela shares practical advice for aspiring authors who are thinking about planning, writing, and self-publishing their first book. She talks about her writing process, her personal system for developing a writing habit and staying on track, and how she thinks about the content of each chapter before sitting down to write. She also shares some of the applications she uses to write and design her books.

I’ve selected a few short clips with edited transcriptions, which you can watch below. I encourage you to watch the complete Masterclass at the bottom of this post, or listen to a podcast version here on Substack, or on Apple Podcasts (and be sure to subscribe to my podcast, Write With Impact).

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To find out more about Pamela’s Offer Accelerator program and her Master Content books, go to her website at www.bigbrandsystem.com.

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The importance of outlining

Every once in a while I’ll hear somebody say, “I’m going to write a book, I’ll just take a bunch of my blog posts and put them together into a book.” And I say, ugh, that’s not going to work.

The same way I teach content marketing which is, go into that piece of content knowing what you want to say and building I call it the content backbone. Building some sort of structure that your words can hang on. And that is basically your headline, your sub-heads, you’ve worked through what argument you’re going to develop in your piece of content. Your over-arching message. That’s like a microcosm for what we’re trying to do in a book. Which is to take people through this arc that starts.  The beginning of the book, through the middle, all the way to the end. You want to have that kind of mapped out ahead of time, so that when you sit down and write, you know which part of that journey you’re actually writing to, and that helps to keep the entire book on track.

And that’s one of the big challenges. My posts were never 700 words long, my recommendation is for people to aim for 1200–1500 words as a minimum nowadays. That’s not that many words, so it’s not that difficult to keep yourself on track from beginning to end within that number of words. But then when you’re talking about 45,000 or 50,000 words, that’s where an editor can be very helpful. Because your editor can say, “You know you said this at the beginning and this at the end, and they don’t really match up.”

It can be so helpful to have it mapped out ahead of time. A tool like Scrivener can be really helpful for that, because it just gives you tools to think through how you’re going to develop your information and take the reader through this journey that starts from chapter one and ends in the appendix.

Pre-thinking before writing

The most important thing that I did is what I did before I would sit down to write—besides drink a cup of coffee (you have to caffeinate)—I always had an idea for the piece of the book that I needed to write. I had these two blocks of time in my week when was going to be writing, but during the rest of the week when I wasn’t writing, when I was taking a walk, or washing dishes, or doing laundry, or cooking dinner, doing everyday tasks, I was thinking about the fact I needed to write a chapter about X, Y, or Z. And that primed my brain to be open to ideas or ways of thinking about it, or analogies I could use, or stories I could tell.

So, by the time I actually sat down to write I had some ideas. In some cases I would jot them down on a note on my phone. And then when I would sit down I would flesh out what I was already thinking. That was a huge help, just doing that pre-thinking before I sat down to write.

You’re a writer, just start doing it

I love it and you know this: The only way to get really good at writing is to write a lot. The beautiful thing about blogging and social media, when you write really rich content on social media, is by just doing it repetitively, the more you do it, the more comfortable you get with it. It’s like learning to speak a language.   You just keep speaking it until you feel fluent. That’s how writing has become for me. I’m a very confident writer now but I was not 10 years ago.

Beyond that I think the most important thing that you can do is just commit to writing. And sometimes it is easier to start on one of those platforms. It’s like a stream, where you write something and it moves down and it moves on, because it feels like a little bit less of a commitment.

But the other thing you can do is if you decide, for example, to start a blog, or you decide to do vlogging, and let’s say you’re posting a video every week, you can just make a commitment to once a week posting a piece of content. And just know that 80% of it will be kind of mediocre, and 20% will be amazing and make your name on the internet.

And that’s okay: the only way to get to that 20% that makes your name on the internet is to do the other 80% also, because it’s practice, your honing your voice, your honing your process, you’re getting better at the language that you’re learning to speak.

And that’s the purpose of it. So, all of those people you know who want to write, they just need to start. Jeff Goins says that, “You’re a writer, start writing.” That’s how you become one, you just start doing it.

The power of deadlines

On Tuesday mornings I woke up early I think I wrote for an hour and a half, maybe two hours, and then I had to start work, I had to start my job. It was deadline, that was the big motivator, it was just the deadline. I didn’t want to spend all day Saturday writing so, I would try to start it and finish it so I could enjoy the rest of my weekend. I’m a very deadline oriented person. Having a business all these years makes you very deadline oriented.

Writing a book gives you confidence

Honestly, I think the biggest thing a book does for you is it gives you the confidence of knowing that you can get through a project of that magnitude. Basically it’s managing yourself, if you’re self-publishing. If you’re working with a publishing company it’s a slightly different thing.

And then I think there’s a little bit of respect that you get from other people that you navigated yourself through a book project. So, yes it is a business card and it opens doors, but I think there’s a little bit of like, “Oh wow you did that, from start to finish you got yourself through that!” It is impressive, anyone who manages to get through a project like that.

And all of the weird ego trash that you have to work through, like, “Should I really be an author? Am I good enough to be putting these words on paper? Do I deserve to have a book? Do I deserve to be selling my expertise inside these hardcovers?” You have to work through all of that stuff. It’s admirable when people have done all that work.

The project of a lifetime

And yes it’s worth it, it’s totally worth it! It feels like the project of a lifetime. I know I love being able to say to people, “I am an author.” My kids like being able to say, “My mom’s an author.” Even on that level it’s awesome. My husband says “My wife’s a two time author.”   It sounds amazing to be able to say that you committed to a project at that level, and you put your expertise into a package that could potentially help people for decades. It’s pretty amazing compared to all of the ephemeral pixels that we’re all focused on, most of us, nowadays. To have something actually in print feels really good.  It’s a big commitment but it’s totally worth it


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