How to Write a Book that Changes Lives
Table of Contents
Today’s podcast episode is something a little bit different. I interviewed AJ Harper, an author, editor and publishing strategist who I’ve personally worked with while writing my book (work in progress). The reason I wanted to bring AJ on is because I think there are so many more parents and practitioners out there who have gotten the idea to write a book that changes lives, but maybe are too scared or aren’t sure where to start. That’s where AJ and her book, “Write a Must-Read: Craft a Book That Changes Lives–Including Your Own,” comes in.
I hope you enjoy this My Child Will Thrive episode with AJ and don’t forget to check the transcript is down below as well as the YouTube video if you’d like to watch our conversation that way!
- How AJ feels about being a writer instead of the person behind-the-scenes. (3:33)
- Why her tagline, “Craft a Book That Changes Lives” is important to her. (5:05)
- What “reader first, last, and always” means and why it should be an author’s focus. (8:37)
- What to do when you start thinking, “who am I to write a book?” (13:57)
- Why should you write a healing draft? (18:20)
- What to pay attention to if you’re going to self-publish. (21:29)
- More about AJ’s book and special free offers. (26:11)
Resources and Links
AJ’s Medium post, “Life Keeps Happening — and So Will Your Book”
More About AJ Harper
AJ Harper is an editor and publishing strategist who helps authors write transformational books that enable them to build readership, grow their brand, and make a significant impact on the world. As ghostwriter and developmental editor, she has worked with hundreds of authors, from newbies to New York Times bestselling authors with millions of books sold.
AJ teaches her method in Top Three Book Workshop and the Must-Read Editing Workshop. She is the Head Writing Coach for Heroic Public Speaking, the premier speaker training program created by Michael and Amy Port. She is writing partner to business author, Mike Michalowicz. Together they’ve written nine books, including Profit First. AJ is the author of Write a Must-Read: Craft a Book That Changes Lives–Including Your Own.
00:00 Tara Hunkin:
This is My Child Will Thrive and I'm your host, Tara Hunkin, nutritional therapy practitioner, certified GAPs practitioner, restorative wellness practitioner, and mother. I'm thrilled to share with you the latest information, tips, resources, and tools to help you on the path to recovery for your child with ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorder, or learning disabilities.
My own experiences with my daughter combined with as much training as I can get my hands on research I can dig into and conferences I can attend have helped me to develop systems and tools for parents like you who feel overwhelmed, trying to help their children. So sit back as I share another great topic to help you on your journey. A quick disclaimer, before we get started.
My Child Will Thrive is not a substitute for working with a qualified healthcare practitioner. The information provided on this podcast is not intended to diagnose or treat your child. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before implementing any information or treatments that you have learned about on this podcast. There are many gifted, passionate, and knowledgeable practitioners with hundreds if not thousands of hours of study and clinical experience available to help guide you.
Part of our goal is to give you the knowledge and tools you need to effectively advocate for your child so that you don't blindly implement each new treatment that comes along. No one knows your child better than you. No one knows your child's history like you do or can better judge what is normal or abnormal for your child. The greatest success in recovery comes from the parent being informed and asking the right questions and making the best decisions for their child in coordination with a team of qualified practitioners in different areas of specialty.
Today's podcast is sponsored by the Autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder Summit. In order to learn more about the summit and to sign up for free, please go to mychildwillthrive.com/summit.
2:04 Tara Hunkin:
Hi everyone. Welcome back to the My Child Will Thrive Podcast. I'm Tara Hunkin and I am thrilled to have with me today AJ Harper. AJ is an editor and publishing strategist who helps authors write transformational books that enabled them to build readership,grow their brand and make a significant impact on the world. As a ghost writer and a developmental editor, AJ has worked with hundreds of authors from newbies to New York Times bestselling authors with millions of books sold. AJ teaches her method in a top three book workshop, which I am a part of thankfully, and the must read editing workshop.
She is the head writing coach for Heroic Public Speaking, the premier speaker training program created by Michael and Amy Port, and she is a writing partner to business author, Mike Michalowicz. Together they've written nine books, including Profit First. AJ is the author of Write a Must-Read: Craft a Book That Changes Lives--Including Your Own. And that's what we're going to be talking about. Thanks for joining me here today, AJ.
3:14 AJ Harper:
This is going to be so great because we know each other and we can have a great conversation.
3:20 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah, that's a big bio. You've done amazing things with authors and so many different ways over the years. How does it feel to be an author of your own, where it is your name that's on the book?
3:33 AJ Harper:
It's a little odd it's taking some getting used to because I'm used to being the behind the scenes girl, but it's mostly positive because I'm just hearing from people who are reading it and it's working for them. So that's what I wanted. And so any sort of nerves I have that's okay. It's overshadowed by all the good, but it is definitely different to be the person with their name on the cover.
4:01 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. And for those that can see this, as opposed to just listening, I'm just going to hold up AJ's book right now, which by the way, then as you can start to see some of the stickies, there are many more as well as I've got an audio, the audible. So I've listened to it. I've read it. I have a digital copy. I have it all. And I have it all because I was fortunate to be in AJ's workshop before she wrote the book and as she was writing the book.
And even after working with you for all these years on top of everything else, reading the book, just like it's such a great tool for anybody that's ever dreamt of writing a book of any kind. But obviously this book is primarily geared towards non-fiction writers. Let's talk about that a little bit. So one of the things that I love about a must read is the tagline, which is craft a book that changes lives including your own. So why is it so important to you that was the tagline for the book and how that relates to your message?
5:05 AJ Harper:
The first word is really key, which is craft because I think that writing a book that's transformational is a craft and it's something you can learn. So we can all learn craft and that takes talent and puts it in the corner. It's not completely out of the room, but it's in the corner. And a lot of people think they don't have the chops to finish it.
They worry about this all the time. So if they just learned some craft, just some strategies and techniques and mindset shifts, they'd be surprised how amazing their books could be. So that's why I chose that word, but really the phrase craft a book that changes lives including your own is to remind people that when you do that, if you write a book that truly does change lives, a lot of people say, I want to write a book that changes lives, but you have to actually intentionally do that.
Once you've done it, your life changes in so many different ways. And even the process of writing it, changes your life, shifts your focus and provides clarity. But really writing a book that's truly life changing, that turns into life changing for you because now everybody's talking about it, it's different than having a book to just have a book. But when it's a book that everybody's saying, you have to read this, you have to read this, then all sorts of doorways open to you.
6:33 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. And that's why I ended up working with you as I'm trying to think of how I first heard of you, probably through Mike Michalowicz and because I loved the book Profit First and as a former finance professional and accountant, he really turned that whole world around for people. And I think it was able to create, and that's what you guys did is you crafted a book that allowed people who were in small business, or they were successful in small business and not worry about, think about it from a successful business and thriving business perspective, which means it has to be financially thriving or it can't exist.
And they can't continue to serve and help other people from just being these scary numbers that most people they're deer in the headlights. So you took a topic that was often crushing for so many entrepreneurs, and were able to frame it in a way with solutions and action steps that were very doable for people that didn't understand numbers very well or didn't understand their business numbers that well.
So it really was an incredible thing. So when I was looking to work with someone to try and figure out how to write a book, we finally got an opportunity to chat about your workshop. I was thrilled because it is, there's so many people out there that are helping authors get published these days because self publishing is so much easier than obviously having to go through the traditional methods.
But so much of that is not what I was looking for, which was, I really want this book that I've been spending a long time on. It's still coming, but I wanted it to, I want it to make a difference. I didn't want to just write a book to write a book. So that's why I was so grateful for your workshop and now that you've got this book out here for so many other people to read and use as well. So one of the things you teach us in the workshop and in the book itself is reader first, last, and always, and we all learn how to introduce who our book is for as opposed to what it's about. So can you explain more to people what that means?
8:37 AJ Harper:
The core message of my book is that a book is not about something it's for someone. And if you make that simple shift in your mindset, your book will automatically be better than if you think of it as something that your book is about something. That is the foundation of reader first is thinking about who this book is for, but not just in ideation,
not just in the beginning, but all the way through and from working on it, it's the constant question of, how am I going to do this framework? What do they need and how am I going to get them through this? And wait, how's this going to feel for them? And, oh, hang on a minute, maybe they don't need that thing.
And so it's thinking about them, that's the craft part is just really considering them at every stage so that your book delivers on its promise to them, which is the most important part. And the cool thing about reader first is that it also helps you get through your stumbling blocks, right? So you're thinking, okay, I'm not, this is terrible.
Who's going to read this? Focusing on reader helps you to get up and do it when you think, what should I do? Should I include this or not? Focusing on reader helps you get up and do it and helps you make decisions.
9:58 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah, no, I completely know how well that works in terms of a tool from going through things, especially when you have a complex topic where there's often not one right answer. It's not as simple as do this, not that. So it's been an incredibly helpful filter as you go through and try to figure out what your reader needs. Like what does the person actually need to know now and what can they do next and then next after that.
10:30 AJ Harper:
I'm glad you remember that from, it's nice to hear you say that.
10:35 Tara Hunkin:
Oh yes, the reader it's been fundamental, but it does take a while to really start to think about that and what I find so helpful over the years to working on that and working on the book is that helps for more things than just your book, because it helps you understand the people that we're trying to help and serve.
And making sure that all that we're doing is looked at through that filter as well, which is very easy to get lost in, especially when you're running a small business that you're trying to do many things in many different ways, and you get advice from a lot of different people. But ultimately I have found too, that if you just worry about what people need and what they need right now versus what they need and five steps from now and provide that journey for them, you're going to get the right answers to them when they need them as they go along.
11:30 AJ Harper:
Can I just say one more thing on that? So the other cool thing is, I have you guys create a reader statement, which I also talk about in the book, and then I ask you every time, who is your reader, who you're writing for. And so then when you're out in the world and someone says, oh, you're writing a book, what it's about, then you turn it around and you say it's for. And I've discovered is that when have this, first of all, the clarity just gives them a lot of confidence, but also people know immediately.
They respond so much differently than if you were to say, it's about this and this and this versus I'm writing a book for these people who need this and want this. Immediately people will just raise their hand and say, I need this or someone I know needs this. They're much more interested in your book than if you had talked about what it was about.
12:22 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah, it is amazing, I've seen that even in workshop when other people start doing it and then say, who else here could use that. And it's amazing how many, even a relatively small group could completely relate to that book, even though it might not be fully outside of what they would have thought it was what I do and who I help.
So they would've just assumed I didn't need it, but I do and I know 10 others that could, so it really does make a big difference in terms of getting people to pay attention cause it turns it around about makes it about them instead of about us, which also is for many people's more comfortable situation. So speaking of comfort level though, one of the things that I think that a lot of people think is that who am I to write a book in the first place?
Like I am not an author and maybe they also don't feel like they're an expert in the area that they want to speak of it. For example, I can say for myself, because my original background was not in obviously in a medical field of any kind and I help parents who have children that have neural developmental challenges. Even though I've had lots of education since then, even if I considered just my parenting of a child in that particular regard, there'd be a book in that in and of itself. So what do you say to the people that say, do I really have a right? And do they really need this book? Or isn't this book already out there?
13:56 AJ Harper:
I have a deeply held belief that if you get the idea to write the book, you have the ability to pull it off and every right to write it. That's my personal belief. And I think it's because I believe in getting a calling to write it, I actually believe that. But if you set all that woo stuff aside, the thing is that there are going to be dozens, sometimes hundreds, sometimes even thousand books on certain topics.
But what the reader really wants is your perspective and your voice. Yes, there are books where you really do need to be an expert to talk about this. So maybe you're just sharing life experience about it and just copying to the fact, Hey, I'm not the expert, here are some good sources, but this is what I am going to talk about is my own personal experience of this and how that can be helpful.
My book is 17 years in the making. And if you count all the years I was a playwright before that, you could maybe say 30. But if you read a book from someone who has only written one book, that's going to be a different depth of experience, but it doesn't mean there isn't value in it. So I think we worry that we aren't credible, and that's just an inner critic saying you don't deserve to do this. Instead think about what you do bring to the table because you wouldn't have had the idea if you didn't think it was needed. You obviously feel like someone needs it or you wouldn't have thought to do it.
15:21 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. And it's funny how, when you think about some of the books, I think people should look to the books that as you call the top three books, what workshop is the, what are the top three books that are sitting on they on your bedside table all night? They aren't usually ones from experts necessarily, but it might be someone who is expert adjacent, or they've been through that life experience and then taken a journalistic view to researching and presenting.
I know in my journey, in terms of learning about health and wellness and ultimately into nutrition and everything else that I ended up doing, it was a book like that made me open my eyes to it. And it wasn't a person that was an expert, but they took a journalistic approach to that book and did the research and had just a great perspective from their personal experiences with the subject matter. And that made all the difference in the world and I remember that book very well because of that.
16:17 AJ Harper:
It could also be just a story about what it was like to live through this thing you lived through. And the thing you live through, doesn't have to be this big epic come from behind tragic story. It could because we all have, as we grow realizations, we have aha moments. We have times from workshop, I call them turning point moments. So when we thought one way and then our behavior, we find a new way in our behavior changes and now things are different. That happens to everybody, every single person and there's value in, when did we realize and make a change and now things are better. There's value in that. Even if there's no expert status at all.
16:59 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah, yeah, no, it is really important to remember. I am hoping that there's multiple parents and practitioners that, that work with these kids that are listening to that and really hearing it because the more of us that step up and write the books because books last. It's actually one of the first blog posts I ever wrote was books being about how we need to be reading books over just blogs which was odd at the time.
But it's because the books tell the whole story and the books help us, are references. The books live beyond the internet in terms of blogs come and go, but that books are around forever and they really can make a massive difference in people's lives. And you never know whose life, even if it's just one life you're going to make a difference and you're going to make that change in.
So I do hope people are listening to that. One of the things you talk about in the book, and I know workshop participants that have been through this process have ended up doing is writing a healing draft. So when we're, for example, talking to people today that may have been through significant events with their children in particular, sometimes they might not be quite ready to write the book that they're meant to write, but they might need to write what you call a healing draft. Can you explain what that is?
18:20 AJ Harper:
Sure. It's a term I came up with when, so as a ghost writer, I only worked on books designed to help somebody make a change or feel something. And I noticed a pattern with people coming in who were too close to what had just happened and, or they never talked about it before. So all of a sudden you're writing a story that's meant to be a commodity now, it's going to be a product and out in the world. So the first time you're talking about it or really thinking through what happened has this end goal that's really scary.
And it also shapes the writing, so now you're worried all the time about how it sounds. And should I say this about this person? And is this any good? When you really need to tell the story to yourself first. And there's a lot of books out there where you can tell that person maybe needed to sort some stuff out first before they did it on the page and then sold it to people.
And I always would tell folks who wanted to bring forward a bunch of sensitive stuff. Do you want your kids to read this 10 years from now? Is this the book five years from now that you'll be glad you wrote? So there's that practical aspect, but then it's just a really personal healing aspect of, can you just tell the story to yourself and let yourself heal in whatever way it needs to be.
And then go back and tell the story again in a way that's designed to be useful to a reader and eventually be a book that people purchase. You gotta let yourself just say all the things and discover all the things just for you with no one else looking at it ever. And then you can go, it's just too much pressure.
And to be clear, you don't have to do it. So if you feel like, oh my God, I'm not going to sit and write a whole book and then write a whole other book. But there are parts of our stories that are really challenging for us that we might've never said out loud. And so just taking a break and writing that to see what you think about it and feel about it first before that is I think really helpful.
20:37 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. I can see where that would be very important for so many people in many ways, and also will serve the purpose of actually writing the book or maybe change what you're going to write about as well. Now, the question for you in terms of I mentioned at the very beginning, the whole idea around self publishing, it's become this big thing in the last number of years.
It has made it a lot easier for people to publish, which is a good thing in a lot of respects. But what can you tell people about the writing process, the editing process, the publishing process that the new way of publishing in terms of the self publishing has glossed over in terms of you want to write a transformational book, what really is necessary in terms of timeline and effort?
21:29 AJ Harper: There's a lot of time involved in developing your fundamentals. So who are you writing for? What's your core message for those people? What is your promise to them? What is your transformational outline? Really considering reader journey before you even write and that process could take you a couple of weeks if you're really fast, but it's more realistic
that'll take you a few weeks to get that going. And then however long it takes you to write it, I have students who write it in six weeks and I have students who write in six months and I have students who are still working on it and all of that's okay, because it's a creative process of discovery.
So that's the wild card number that's really up to the author themselves and what's going on in their lives. But once you have a first draft, then you move into what's called developmental editing or substantive editing, sometimes those words are interchangeable, even though they mean different things. And that's that high-level editing that I do with y'all in workshop.
Does this book work? Does it flow? Is my voice consistent? What's missing? What's extra? What's the sequencing? Is this doable? All the big questions and making those big changes. And what happens is in self publishing, first of all, most authors, I know, have no idea they need that editor. So they skip it because they just don't know and that's understandable.
And then a lot of self publishing packages don't even tell you about it. And the reason I think is because it's expensive, if you're going to finance it yourself, because that's a lot of work when you want somebody with specific expertise, not just in writing books, but also in writing your genre. You're going to have to pay for that and so I think it just gets left out.
That's one of the things that happened when people started self publishing more is why do we have to wait so long with traditional publishing? That's one of the reasons because if you get a traditional deal, for the most part, you have that editor, that's baked into the process that you're not, and you're not paying for it. But after that, once your manuscript is ready to go, you have a copy editor. And this is what most people think of when they think editor is someone who's fixing your grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax, formatting. And then after that, there's another editor, but most people don't know about that, and this is the proofreader who's going to go in and fix all this stuff the other editors didn't fix. And that's important because we're just human beings and we make mistakes.
I don't know how many editors. I think I had an editor friend look at my book, had all the right editors plus extra. I am an editor and I still ended up, when I went to record the audio book, finding 10 mistakes, which made me insane, just made me just lose my mind, which they've been corrected. So that's why you need to have all those people, but most people don't realize that they need as big a team as they, they need to make something great. And then of course, there's all the other people involved in turning it into an actual book, cover and design and all that. It takes a whole team.
24:45 Tara Hunkin:
It's funny now that I understand the process and I also have been through developmental editing with you and watching it with others, which is a tough process, but it's so great. Like it is so great. Like the difference between and watching, cause you do this amazing stuff, live edits, where we get to watch you do the work on other people's books or our books and you just see the monumental difference that makes.
When I read a book, which now you can almost always know if it's been self published and whether or not they had a developmental editor involved in it because it's the difference, I think it's the difference between a good and great book. Because it's all the work that has to be put in to make it so that the book serves the reader in the end.
And it really is gonna make sense that reader and then that reader can really take away what they need to take away from that book. And it's hard to do that if you don't have that outside influence that has experience with that part of it. So I know that a lot of people have to go the self publishing route or that's the only way they might be able to get their book done and that, but if you are going to go to the effort of writing a book, it's definitely worth making sure you have all those low levels of editing, because it takes books to a whole different level.
26:11 AJ Harper:
Then that's one of the reasons I actually put my entire editing methodology into the book. So there's five chapters on it and it's the method that you know well, but that I created for myself, which actually comes from having OCD quite frankly, legit OCD and turning that into a positive for myself and others, because there really hasn't been a way to think about everything separately that you need to do. So if you can, if you have listeners here who can't afford a developmental editor, don't know how to find one,
or just want to do a great job before you turn it into your developmental editor, there's five chapters in the book that break down how to do a lot of what I do as a developmental editor, at least things to consider. Because I think a lot of it is just not knowing what to consider, but what am I supposed to look at when I edit? And so that's the place to start.
27:07 Tara Hunkin:
No, it's an amazing framework, which you walk us through and the developmental editing retreats as well. But it is, it's like an amazing gift. It's all in the book now. And that's why I say I've been all through all the things, but I still listen to the book.
I've read the book, because it is something that it's like anything, when you're developing a new craft, you need to keep on immersing yourself in the lessons of that craft so that you can do it the best way possible. And your developmental editor ultimately or all the editors will thank you for it, publishers in the end.
On that note, I want to just tell everyone that I can't recommend enough picking up AJ's book. If you're familiar with the Steven Pressfield, The War of Art, Steven has reviewed the book and it says that it is an essential resource to help you produce the works you were put on earth to bring forth, which I can imagine a higher accolade than that.
It's amazing and it's true. And that's why if you are interested and writing a book or even have ever thought about it, even in passing, I really recommend you pick up AJ's book and then also reach out to her through her website, ajharper.com, which you have a number of different resources as well for the books specifically for people free tools for them.
28:29 AJ Harper:
Yeah. There's a separate website as well called writeamustread.com. And there's a bunch of free stuff there, deleted content, cool things to help even more because as my Achilles heels is I'm a kitchen sink person. So I just couldn't help myself. The things I couldn't put in the book I'm putting on the website. So I just want people to have what they need. It's important to me.
28:56 Tara Hunkin:
It is, I know it is. AJ gives of herself to her community on an ongoing basis, no matter where you are in the process. I'm super grateful to that. Thank you for joining me today to share the book and share all the years of your skills and the crafts that you've developed and sharing it with others so they can also write their must-read book, too.
29:19 AJ Harper:
Thank you for having me. We are so excited for whenever your must read comes out into the world. I know firsthand how it's already going to be a game changer for people, but that you are committed to only putting it out when it's right and you feel it's truly of service and in the highest good. That shows your commitment to readership, so I think everybody will be grateful when your book finally appears.
29:50 Tara Hunkin:
Thanks, AJ. And with that, we will see you all again soon. And I want to encourage you to go to the show notes and the links are all there so you can get AJ's book. It's all available on all the different normal places that you can get at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, wherever you buy books. And you'll be hearing more from parents telling their story here in the podcast. If you haven't heard already, we have a new segment called The Parent Perspective. You're going to hear it here and I hope now too you also share your stories through your books in the future. Bye for now.
So that's a wrap. Thanks for joining me this week on My Child Will Thrive. I'm so passionate about giving you the tools and information you need to help your child recover. And as they say, it takes a village, so join us in the, My Child Will Thrive village Facebook group, where you can meet like-minded parents and stay up to date on everything we have going on at My Child Will Thrive.
This is Tara Hunkin and I'll catch you on the next podcast or over at mychildwillthrive.com.
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