Ease your student supervision speed bumps.

From Book Proposal to Publication: Starting Where You Are

There are two primary questions that I’ve received since publishing my first book in 2020, Digital Leadership in Higher Education: Purpose-Driven Social Media in a Connected World

When is the next book?

How did you do it?

At first, the answers to both these questions were pretty fuzzy. I’m finally writing an answer to the second question. But what about the first question, you ask? Stay tuned. 

Writing a (solo) book was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. Harder than earning my doctorate. Harder even than completing the Lake Tahoe Olympic triathlon. But writing a book was worth it, and my life and how I serve higher education leaders and organizations have forever been changed for the better.

There is someone out there reading this that has a book somewhere in them. Is it you? I hope this letter finds you right where you are, whether you are in the dreaming phase or the darker days of rewrites. I am writing to you today offering three tools to support you on your path from book proposal to published author.

What do I ask in return? Tell me about your book, where you are in the project, and of course when the book comes out so I can celebrate with you!! 

The most important thing you can do if a book is in your heart and on your mind is to start wherever you are. 

Do Not Start from Scratch

I will start at the beginning, and this particular piece of advice is a bit more tactical. I especially hope it will help someone out there who is experiencing writer’s block or is feeling frozen on where to even start.

A blank sheet of paper is like showing up on race day without running shoes. 

There is a good chance that you have actually already started writing your future book. You might find a piece of your book in a comment you posted in Slack, a series of Twitter posts from the last year, a deep conversation you recently had with a colleague or a presentation you gave. I want you to pay attention to where you are already creating, where you have existing content, and where you are spending your time. 

In digital engagement, this practice is often referred to as repurposing. It is not plagiarism. In academia, many times we see dissertations turned into articles, presentations, and even books. 

For example, I took my Josie and The Podcast interviews and transcribed them, which then fueled many of the features found throughout the book. There were also blog posts and past presentations that influenced chapter content, as well as core text frameworks. 

Another way not to start from scratch is to incorporate interviews or research such as a survey into the project. A kind warning about this, though: don’t just go filling your time with market research and reading. You’ll get stuck in this phase! 

This is also why it is critical to create an outline. Well-detailed book, chapter, and section outlines are another way to get your book project moving – even if it is shorthand or bullet points. 

Reclaim Your Time 

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were countless “productivity” posts online encouraging hopeful writers to take this time to write the first or next book. Eye roll.

We now know far too well the toll of this pandemic. Just because there may be available physical time does not mean you have the emotional, spiritual, or psychological bandwidth required. 

As a writer, you must reclaim your time.

This reclamation starts with making peace with time. Coming to terms with time is letting go of unrealistic expectations of what you can do with said “time.” 

I’m not saying you aren’t capable of hard work or lengthy periods of focus. But from my experience, I continued to create deadlines and determine productivity levels that were not reachable nor sustainable. Being a creative (yes, that is what you are as a writer) takes an extensive amount of self-kindness and preservation.

The second part of reclaiming your time is asking the difficult question, in order to commit to this project what are you willing to give up? Your Saturday afternoons? Early morning Peloton sessions? A volunteer organization? It doesn’t have to be everything, but it’s not just more time you have to make available. You also need to free up mental space for writing.

This leads me to the next time-related negotiation when writing a book: take time away from the book. This may seem counterintuitive, but some of my best writing chunks were when I had a day, week, or even more away from both the book and other projects that were zapping me of creative capacities.

Finally, time is a trickster – so track everything. If you only mile-mark the big stuff in a book project, you will quickly get discouraged. So I need you to manipulate time and make a big deal out of everything. 

Track little and big things, not just completing a chapter. Track every word, every paragraph, every interview, and edit. Get a notebook or start a Google doc. Begin to document your process and celebrate the hell out of it. Which leads me to the next lesson that got me from proposal to publication. Do not do it alone. 

Build a Book Support Squad

There is a primary reason I point to the book being one of my most difficult endeavors. It took a toll on my mental health. I suggest starting with a little check-in. 

Check your solo resilience scale. Just like tracking and auditing your time and progress, take a look at how much you are already doing solo work. Maybe you are actually already in a highly collaborative work/family environment, and this book will be a welcomed independent endeavor. Or you might fall on the introverted side, and you gain energy from projects like this. Great! This lesson may not be as applicable to you. 

Because I was already working solo on much of my business, working on this book pushed me further into isolating spirals. So this lesson was more important to me than anything else I’m suggesting here.  

Here are a few ways I built a support squad.

Care for your holistic health. As much as you’re tracking word counts and track changes, authors need to commit to caring for their body, mind, and spirit, as well. I was not always a good role model for this. I struggled a lot – I didn’t think I deserved self-care because I wasn’t meeting my deadlines or making as much progress as I thought I should be. 

With the loving kindness of my partner, friends, and family – who reflected back to me the harm the project was having on me – I eventually gifted myself a number of self-care tools. I made weekly therapy non-negotiable. I became more aware when I was getting anxious and turned on a 10-minute meditation. I tried out acupuncture. Yoga became a staple. I set a clock to stand up every hour. Despite making a lot of progress on my self-care, this is still an area if/when I write another book that I would need to prioritize even more.

Ask people for help. Personally, the book edits were one of the worst parts of the process. I experienced the whole darn cycle of grief. No matter which of the self-care tools I attempted, I needed more. So I asked for it. In the last year of the book publication journey, I reached out to 12 close colleagues who were already expressing care and support for the book. I asked them to be part of a #TeamJosie GroupMe where I posted weekly updates, including the highlights and lowlights. 

A number of #TeamJosie members reviewed sections, chapters, and even the entire book. Many offered a consistent flow of check-ins and phone calls. They saw me through to the finish line and knew intimately what it was taking to make it that far. Ask people in your life who you know care about you to be there for you.

Explicitly ask them. Tell them what this book will take and what you need from them in return. Maybe you need an accountability partner or a friend to bring/order you dinner every Saturday after a writing day. Every person I asked for help said yes without hesitation. 

Your people want to help you. Ask and be prepared to receive it. Then be sure to include them in the acknowledgments section 😉

Start where you are. 

In the last section of the last chapter of my book, I repeat the phrase “lead wherever you are” numerous times. Whether that is in-person or online, we need leadership.

Digital leadership is using available digital communication tools with the intent to make an impact. It doesn’t require a position title. You don’t need to have a Dr. in front of your name, just an Internet connection, and a plan. 

Wherever you are today, start.

There will be no perfect time to write a book. And if you are going through a publisher, these projects can take years (mine took 4!).

So start. You have everything you need. You are enough.

You are a writer. You WILL publish a book. 


*This post was originally created for my newsletter, Digital Leadership Download. Subscribe and keep up with everything I’m writing, podcasting, and speaking about!

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Share this post!

You may also like...

The State of Student Affairs Marketing Communications

Segmented, Stretched, and Misunderstood: Student Affairs Marketing and Communications

That’s the tweet. The TLDR. The spoiler alert. What is the current state of student affairs marketing and communications?  It is segmented, stretched, and misunderstood.  For over 10 years, I have been supporting and strategizing marketing and communications across campus, especially in student affairs.  During the spring of 2022, I began formally researching how the …

Read More »

From Book Proposal to Publication: Starting Where You Are

There are two primary questions that I’ve received since publishing my first book in 2020, Digital Leadership in Higher Education: Purpose-Driven Social Media in a Connected World.  When is the next book? How did you do it? At first, the answers to both these questions were pretty fuzzy. I’m finally writing an answer to the second …

Read More »
You are essential blog header - photo of Josie

You are Essential

You are Essential. I’ve been thinking a lot about energy since I returned from a month-long RV trip that my husband and I coined #AhlQuest.  Away from my computer, far from Los Angeles, each day was a blank page instead of an always full to-do list.  I’m writing to you, attempting not to sound too “woo-woo” or …

Read More »

Subscribe to my newsletter

For the latest on digital engagement and leadership and everywhere they intersect.

Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

Connect with Rebekah

Spark your mission on social media

Sign up for the Digital Leadership Download

The newsletter that brings the latest in digital engagement and leadership right to your inbox

Unsubscribe anytime. Read our Privacy Policy.

Sign up for the Digital Leadership Download

The newsletter that brings the latest in digital engagement and leadership right to your inbox

Unsubscribe anytime. Read our Privacy Policy.