Do you want to know how to write a short book in a day?
Listen as writing and publishing expert, Mila Johansen shares simple techniques to make writing easy, simple, and enjoyable.
In this week's powerful episode "How to Best Write a Short Book in a Days" you will discover..
Susan Friedmann: Welcome to Book Marketing Mentors, the weekly podcast where you learn proven strategies, tools, ideas, and tips from the masters. Every week, I introduce you to a marketing master who will share their expertise to help you market and sell more books. Thank you for tuning in to today's show.
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Now, let's get on with the show. Today, my special guest is Mila Johansen. Mila is a public speaker, writing coach, teacher, and writer. She's the author of five books and several short screenplays. She loves giving people permission to write and publish their short book and teaches them how to do it. All the way from her organic citrus ranch in Northern California, Mila, what an absolute pleasure it is to welcome you to the show. And thank you for being this week's guest expert and mentor.
Mila Johansen: Oh, thank you, Susan. Thanks for having me on. I'm so excited to talk to you about writing and publishing.
Susan Friedmann: Excellent. And I know your area of specialty is short books. Talk to us about what exactly do you call a short book?
Mila Johansen: Well, the shortest book you can publish on Amazon with a spine, which is nice to have a spine, is 36 pages. It can go anywhere up to 98 pages where you can get your name on the spine or the comfortable, 125 pages to 135 pages. What I'm trying to give people is permission to write their short book, because many, many people are daunted by writing the long book. A lot of people come to my classes and they're like, "Oh, I can write a short book? I can do that." Then they can, especially entrepreneurs, they can use it to show expertise, as a giveaway, and maybe the outline for their longer book. I have one student now who was daunted by writing her longer book, so she came to my class, she's writing her short book, she's going to publish it, she's going to use it for the outline for her longer book. And she's going to sell it in between while she's doing the other book.
Susan Friedmann: That's fantastic. Talk to us a little bit more about this whole process. I mean, you talk about writing a short book in a day. Well, that to me is like, "Wow, that's exciting that I could write a short book in a day." And then, obviously, as you say, get it published. Talk to us more about that process.
Mila Johansen: I teach a class, Write Your Short Book in a Day, it's five hours and we sit and we write together with prompts. And if you are really going to stick to the 36-page format, you could write it in a day because everyone really does know about their expertise, especially if you're writing about something you already know. You could write your short book in 36 pages in a day or two, and then, you can probably get it edited and get it published on Amazon in a week or two, and have a book that you can use as your lead magnet, as a giveaway, to show expertise. The great thing is, it's never been easier to self-publish. It's kind of like the Wild West out there right now.
Susan Friedmann: It certainly is. I mean, everything's possible, self-publishing or publishing through a hybrid publisher, like Aviva Publishing, yes, it's easy. I remember the days, and I'm sure you do too, where you had to go to the traditional publisher, and that you wrote these long book proposals, and maybe they did, maybe they didn't. I mean, I remember my first book was turned down three times before they accepted it. And then I've sort of had to talk them into it because it was a subject that they weren't crazy about. But they went with it and 450,000 books later, we were on a roll. They took a chance on me.
Talk to us more about this and why you feel... Many of our listeners as you know, have already written a book and published it or in the throes of finishing up their book. Why should they write a short book as well as the longer book?
Mila Johansen: Right now, there's a big study out that the more books you publish on Amazon, books beget sales. It's good to put out more. I have one mentor, he has put out 23 eBooks and two or three paperback books. Because he has so many books out, they feed each other and they sell. So I think that it's good to have a book that you can just use as a giveaway.
And what I always suggest is to do all the formats, like do the paperback and then wait three or four weeks so that you get that book on people's shelves, in their hands as a physical book, and then do your ebook after three weeks. After that, go in and try to get it into an audio book because audio books are really big right now and they're really selling. And then I also make all of my books, especially my short books, into a PDF that I can use for giveaways at summits and when I'm on podcasts. That is a real plus. People love getting gifts and I love giving them away. And sometimes I'll even a longer book, maybe 75, 98 pages, I might just shorten it to 36 pages for my give it away.
A really good concept right now that I'm presenting is the short, medium and long book. You can get three or four books out of one book. And I think that's exciting because I've done that with my plays. I've written 22 plays and musicals that circle the globe and I've written them all to be short, medium and long because I realized years ago that schools and theaters really can't do the long version, they need the short or mediums. So now, I'm cutting my own books down. And because of my experience with the plays, I can cut anything out and not care. Most writers can't do that as you know, Susan.
Susan Friedmann: Yes. I mean, that's really hard. You're so close to it and it's like everything is important. I don't know if I had to shorten my Riches in Niches book, How to Make it BIG in a Small Market. I wouldn't know where to begin with that. Now, I could take individual chapters and make those maybe a short book, but taking the whole book and condensing it into a short version of that book, I'm not sure that I would know how to do that. There's some techniques or formulas that you use to make that happen?
Mila Johansen: There's a really good way to help with that. It'll surprise you. It's Twitter. Twitter is great for writers. I went from 56 followers on Twitter to 8,000 in nine months with a formula I have. The thing about it is Twitter is great because you can only have so many characters on there. Suddenly, I take my "and" word and put a sign in. And I really learned to condense my words down. If you can read your books, like I could go through your book and say, "Okay, well, it's all good, but they will still understand the content and what you're saying even if we take out this part."
What I like to do is internal cuts. Internal cuts are a few words here, a few sentences here, not like a whole chunk. You can cut out whole chunks, and what you can do also, is like what you said, is put your most important chapters into a shorter book. You could do that and you get better as you do it. And as I know, because I'm in many, many writers groups, most writers don't want to cut even one word out. And I'm sure you've run across that too. But it does make the book better in many ways. And what happened with me, I wrote my long play, then I cut it to medium and short. And then I'm reading the short and I'm like, "Oh my gosh, it still makes complete sense. I just didn't need all of that verbiage." There's a lot of different ways of attacking it.
Susan Friedmann: Yeah. It's interesting that you should say that because I'm a great lover of tips. And the fact that you're saying, picking out the internal tips and then maybe elaborating on those... I often talk about the fact that you can put 10 tips together and you write a hundred words for each tip and you've got a thousand-word article. Whereas if you say, "We'll sit down and write a thousand-word article," you will like, "Oh, I'm not sure where to start with it." But if you start with those 10 tips, for instance, and just write a short couple of sentences about them, boom, there you have it.
Mila Johansen: I have a friend who's done blogging for a long time. She has about 500 blogs. I said to her one day, "Why don't you take those blogs and put them into five books?" She could take her blogs on different subjects, put them into books, self-love, blah, blah, blah, health and wellness, blah, blah, blah. And then she could put those into books. This is something a lot of you could be thinking of, is to taking your blogs you've already written, they're well-written, and you put them into short books.
And another thing is I teach these other tips on how to do it. So for one thing, when I want to extend my book a few pages, I'll take every paragraph and double space between them, which makes it easier to read. Like blogs, you know how blogs are now? They're in short little bullets with two spaces between them. And then I'll also, instead of doing 1.0 spacing between sentences, I'll do 1.5 between, and then what that does is it extends my book. And then I always extend it with a lot of value at the end, my 101 Surprising Tips to Promote Your Book, I put in all sorts of things like writers' convention workshops, key shortcuts on computer and writer shortcuts like MC and MS. I gave a lot of value by adding in more information at the end of the book. You also want to tie yourself to other writers by having someone who has a lot of books on Amazon write the foreword for you and then put their bio and their picture at the end of the book.
Susan Friedmann: That's a great point is getting that endorsement credibility from somebody already out there who's a known entity, because sometimes you come onto the market, you're totally unknown and you're trying to get people's attention. But as an unknown, it's hard. But as you said, having more books to your name, if somebody likes your writing, there's a tendency that they want more from you. They may buy everything that you write. So yes, keep putting it out there. Don't just rely on that one book to do everything for you. This is a great way. And I love the idea of repurposing your material in whatever way you can. I mean, you talk about doing screenplays and you're turning your books into screenplays or your screenplays into books, whichever way it is.
Mila Johansen: It depends, some of my screenplays are just individual. But also I just took the workshop with Jack Canfield, who wrote Chicken Soup for the Soul. And he was really talking about series and how series sell. And he got 144 rejections before he did get his first book published, which I think is very inspiring for all of us if you did want to go the traditional route. But he was really talking about series and they're talking about series now on Amazon workshops that they really are selling, they beget each other, they're building your algorithms and it's a great way to do it. That's why if you had a set of blogs, you could put them into your books because you've already written them, they're already powerful, they're already there. And there's so much that you've already written, maybe articles you could put into a book, maybe stories, that there's just a plethora of opportunity out there now.
Susan Friedmann: Yes. And I love the idea of a series and if it's popular, hey, I love it even more because you're right, I mean, it's like people want more, people want more of you. I still go back to this whole writing a book in a day, I just want more information about that because it just sort of boggles my mind. Talk to us a little bit more about... Can you give us a few more insights into how you do this, those tips, those nuggets, those prompts that you were mentioning?
Mila Johansen: Well, the best way, I swear, to outline a book is to make a chapter list. You don't have to go by the chapter list, but what you do, and even, maybe it's just bullet points and you make that list. And it's almost good to go through... When I first start the class, Write Your Short Book in a Day, the first thing we do is we make a chapter list because if you have a chapter list, you have an outline. And then the next thing we do is we write our first chapter and it doesn't have to be the first chapter, it needs to be the chapter that you're inspired to write. Never feel you have to go from A to Z in a book. I often will start at the end if that [inaudible 00:14:10] I'm inspired or the very middle, if I think of a certain [inaudible 00:14:13]. It doesn't matter, you just need to keep writing.
In fact, the big mantra going around the writer's world right now is keep your butt in the seat, 20 minutes a day is all we ask. And I even say to people, five minutes a day. And I said that for the 30 years I've been teaching this. And this week, Susan, I found the most beautiful quote to corroborate what I've been saying. And my students were like, "Ah," because I got a chance to tell them. And Tony Morrison, the author, there's a quote that she wrote five minutes a day for her first novel because that's all the time she had raising children.
So I put that straight into my book, because it made the point of what I've been saying all these years. And some of my students, they just were like, "Wow." And it works, because if you wrote 20 minutes a day, that would add up to a book. It doesn't have to be this huge long thing you do every day. Because a lot of people won't go to the gym unless they have an hour or two, while I'll stop my car, go on the treadmill 20 minutes, get back in my car and go on my way. So I feel the same way about writing.
But the main way to start your book is to make a chapter list and then you kind of have an outline. Now you can change your chapter list. And I try to make really perky subjects for my chapters, to make them interesting. Like Am I a Dog Whisper from my last book, came out, A Dog's Best Friend. I wrote that book, it's a short book, I wrote it in my own classes that I teach, Write Your Short Book in a Day, because during that 20 minutes that everybody's writing, I write. And the next book I'm writing, Tips on Homeschool, because I homeschooled my daughter all the way through because people really need that right now while they're staying home.
So I write too in those classes and I've written two books in those classes. A lot of my students come back every time I teach, Write Your Short Book in a Day, because it's a dedicated time that they know they're going to get something written. Hardly anyone sticks to the idea of 36 pages, they want to write something longer. But if you did stick to 36 pages, you would finish it in that day.
Susan Friedmann: Well, you've said a couple of things that I picked up on that really were really critical and that is to start writing what inspires you, because having to sit down and write, "Well, now let's start with chapter one," it's like, "Well, where do I start?" The hardest thing is getting started. And if you start with something you're excited and inspired by, wow, you could just keep going. Yes, I think that's really important. And I love the idea of five 20 minutes a day. I used to, for my first book, I did two hours in the evening, which was my best writing time, which now is now morning because my whole circadian clock has changed as I got older. But I had to write at least two pages a day to be happy before I would finish. And sometimes those two pages were agony and sometimes I got them done just like that, in no time at all. And I had this sign on my desk that said bum glue, I had to keep my bum glued to my seat the whole time.
Mila Johansen: Good. Good.
Susan Friedmann: Mila, our listeners love talking about more listening and avoiding and hearing about mistakes. Talk to us about some of the biggest mistakes that you find authors make in this kind of environment.
Mila Johansen: I always start every class with a statement by Barbara Kingsolver, "Give yourself permission to write a bad book and then work on it till it's a really good." Mainly what I'm giving permission to people is get going, just start. There are no mistakes. We have editors. We can get it done. And it's funny that you said just start because I've had many articles written about me over the years and they always end up titling them, Just Start or Just Do It, because that's always what I say. And we're going to make lots of mistakes. I think the biggest mistake you could make is not starting. And that's the thing about starting where you're inspired because sometimes you might start in the middle with the chapter that's going to be in the middle. And even then you don't really need to list your chapters. It's just more like your ideas. But when I did my chapters for my dog book, they all turned into a chapter and then I rearranged them until they worked.
If you start in the middle, I feel like we're in this paper bag and we've got to work our way out, I start where I'm inspired. But then I go, "Oh, but now I could do the other chapter because I get it." And if you're writing about something you know, you're going to be so surprised how fast it just comes out on the page. Everyone who comes to my classes, then they end up saying, "Oh my gosh, I didn't know I could write like this." I get people who haven't written, but they're entrepreneurs, but everybody's a writer. In my opinion, everyone's a writer. We may need editors and that's good. And I always suggest you get your book professionally edited, even if you're going to do it in a few weeks, because we don't need more bad books out there. I mean, I'm sure you agree with me on that, Susan.
Susan Friedmann: Oh, 100%, 110%, 120%. Absolutely. I mean, all my authors, through Aviva Publishing, their books have to be professionally edited, whether it's by one of the editors I recommend or somebody they've work with. But they've got to be a professional editor because you're right, there's nothing worse than buying a book that is so badly written, and not edited, there are spelling errors, there are grammatical errors. Drives me crazy. I want my money back if I have that situation. Even if the material is great, it just spoils it because to me, that sort of smells of unprofessionalism, that you're prepared to put something out there that doesn't really represent you in the best possible way. And I believe a book represents you and what you stand for and your professionalism and the quality and all of those different things. I mean, even if it's subconsciously, we're judging all of these things all the time, whatever we're doing. Would you agree with that?
Mila Johansen: Yes. And then, on the same note though, I would like to say that most books, even when they're professionally edited, still we're going to find a few mistakes. So forgive yourselves that.
Susan Friedmann: Absolutely. I always remember I quilted for a while, I did quilting. And they always said the best quilts had a small error in them and they did that on purpose.
Mila Johansen: Oh, I like that.
Susan Friedmann: ... because there is nothing perfect in this world. And so, you're right, people get so upset when there's a typographical error in their book. "Oh my goodness, this is like the end of the world." No it isn't. I mean, I know somebody who sold a book and the pages were blank.
Mila Johansen: Oh God.
Susan Friedmann: I know. I know. I mean, you've got to be a certain kind of personality to do that. And he is. The fact is that it doesn't matter. Things happen. And the main thing is that it's quality information that fill the pages, that they're not blank pages, but-
Mila Johansen: Exactly. I think the main thing is, just everybody has a book [inaudible 00:21:30] everybody. And it's so exciting right now. I just taught my class, From Pen to Published, a six week course. And I'm teaching it again in April. And it was so exciting because every single person there had the greatest idea and they were all very, very good writers. Most people are better writers than they suppose they are. And then here's what happened. They all come in with the idea of what they're going to write, half of them, after they heard the ideas of other people and we talked about things, half of them ended up pivoting to a completely different subject. So I thought that was very interesting. Some give yourself permission like, "Oh, I want to write this book too." So sometimes I actually write two or three books at the same time because they feed each other.
Susan Friedmann: Do you find that people tend to, and especially in the beginning, that they try and right the way they had to in English class, editing as they go? What are your rules about things like that?
Mila Johansen: Oh, okay. For one thing, right now, let's say I wrote my dog book, because I had just written my intellectual book about my grandmother, From Cowgirl to Congress. It was her memoir, but I had to go and [inaudible 00:22:38] the footnotes in. I mean, it took a year and a half, two years, to put that book together. So I had to write a fluffy book next, and that was the dog book. So I did it very chatty. Right now in business world, a lot of people are writing their books, what I call, chatty, which is like, "All right now, repeat after me, 'You're going to get a professional headshot. Professional." I mean, I kind of did chatty... Oh, that was my 101 Ways to Promote Your Book. But I got real chatty in these books. And people are loving them because they're fun. I tell my students that you might want to choose chatty for your "how to" book, or if you're doing one on psychology, you may want to get a little bit more serious.
There's different voices you want to use. And then there's also, you need to choose first person and some third person. You make a lot less mistakes in first person. It's a lot easier. When you're writing in third person, you're going to have to really pay attention to your sentence structure and everything. This is really important. There's a man I met at Comic-Con and he puts out a book a month. This is how he does it. He writes like Isaac Asimov, eight to noon. That's what Isaac Asimov did, he writes eight to noon. In that time period, and if you were doing 20 minutes or two hours, he doesn't allow himself to do any research or editing, because that is what will distract me. I'll like, "Oh, well, I'll just go and do some research and editing." That's like a cheat. He can only write new material during those four hours. Now this is how he gets his books done. So you should make rules like that because you don't want to hide behind editing and research. So that's a big tip for you right there.
Susan Friedmann: Oh, research. I mean, as soon as I go onto the internet, I get lost down the rabbit warren, because one source will lead to another source to another source. And before you know it, an hour's passed and I haven't written anything. And I've got so many bits of information that I think I want to include that it's a overwhelm. I love that idea of just writing for the sake of writing, getting it out there. I've also heard this idea of sort of stream of consciousness, that you just write, whatever comes into your mind, you just write, because somewhere there's going to be a golden nugget you don't know about, but it'll come out. Some connection between one thing to another thing to another thing. And who knows what's going to come out of that? So yes-
Mila Johansen: Well, there's two forms of that, I don't know if you've heard this, but there's pantsers and outliners. I'm a pantser, I fly by the seat of my pants, I write... But I've really gone back to handwriting in my notebooks when I can, because when I do that, my writing gets way deeper. Sometimes characters appear that I didn't expect were going to be there and they become even major characters, that's when I'm writing a novel. Right now, in many colleges, they're not allowing kids to bring laptops anymore because they want them to hand write the material because they retain it that way. I found if I go and I write with pen and paper, I'm getting way deeper and way different things are coming out. Well, you can either be a pantser or an outliner. Some people are in between. Sometimes I do both. I wouldn't be afraid of either one. I would do whatever you do. And I think what you're saying is the main thing is get it down on the page and fix it later, like Barbara Kingsolver says.
Susan Friedmann: Yeah. Now, in your workshop, do people type out on the computer or they're handwriting?
Mila Johansen: I offer both, like when we're doing the Write Your Short Book in a Day, I say, well, have your computer ready or have pen and paper ready. And then I actually have a really wonderful PowerPoint that goes through everything I've just said to you today. I like to talk about pantsers versus outliners, and writing on pen and paper versus computer. So I give everyone a choice, but I like to present both sides so they can choose.
Susan Friedmann: Excellent. If our listeners would like to find out more about your workshop and about you, Mila, how can they do that?
Mila Johansen: You can go right now to my website, which is milajohansen.com. That's easy, milajohansen.com. I do have a sign up for the Write Your Short Book in a Day on April 10th. It's a Saturday, for five hours. And you won't believe how fast five hours goes [inaudible 00:27:03]. I'm very entertaining. And we write 20 minutes. We talk about nuts and bolts for 20 minutes. We write for 20 minutes. It's on my site, Write Your Short Book in a Day, on April 10th. And then I also have my big course coming up, which is the six weeks. And I give you the total nuts and bolts with a workbook and a book. You get every single aspect of getting your book done and getting it published fast. I have both of those workshops up on my website right now.
Susan Friedmann: Excellent. And I'll put a link to your website that listeners can find that. Those will be in the show notes. Okay? And we always end off with our guest giving our listeners a golden nugget. What is your golden nugget, Mila?
Mila Johansen: I like to always say to people that no matter who you are or what's ever happened to you or where you've been, you can become anything you want. The world is your creation, and you can be anything, anytime.
Susan Friedmann: Especially in a short book. I love it. Thank you. You've been wonderful sharing your wisdom. So thank you so much. And thank you all for taking time out of your precious day to listen to this interview. And I sincerely hope that it sparks some ideas you can use to sell and write more books. Here's wishing you much book and author marketing success.
And before I sign off completely for today, remember the 121-Point Checklist to Uncover Profitable Income Streams for Your Book. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It's in the show notes as well, the link. Get your copy. See you next week.