Everyone has a story to tell, and perhaps no one knows this better than New York Times and number one Amazon bestselling author Anna David. The writer and media personality that has now pivoted into being an entrepreneur has been the queen of branding herself even before the expression was a thing.
David went on to find success as a writer and editor of countless addiction articles and books. But after years of working with some of the top names in publishing, she realized it was no longer worth her while and decided to get into the world of self-publishing. Then she started her own company, Launch Pad, to teach others how to do the same.
In her newest book, Make Your Mess Your Memoir, David shares her story not only of addiction and recovery, but also her adventures in journalism with a smattering of being Matt Damon’s college girlfriend (really). It’s a juicy read! But the pages are also filled with lots of useful information about the benefits and process of self-publishing, clearly demystifying the process.
I recently spoke with David about the book, why she thinks self-publishing is a far better choice than going the traditional route as well as the rewards of being open about your mess.
The book is a hybrid of a memoir and a “how to” guide aka a “biz-oir.” Why did you decide to go with this format?
Here’s why: I used to only read memoirs and while I loved them, I never felt like I took away solid information I could apply to my life. When I got really serious about building a successful business a few years ago, I switched to only reading business books. And while I’ve been able to glean a lot that I’ve been able to use and apply, I find those books often a bit dry. Story is what hooks me and ultimately helps me retain what I learn.
And so I thought: what if I could tell my story and then show other people how they can do the same? So I coined the term “biz-oir” which is ten chapters of memoir, followed by four chapters of business (in this case, the business part being how to make a messy life into a memoir that can help you build a business).
Sadly, there’s still a stigma against people who suffer from addiction (even if they have long-term sobriety). Do you find this is still a problem for you personally?
I honestly busted out about being sober before I even understood there was any sort of stigma around it. I got sober in LA, where every other person is sober. And I’ve always been a writer, which to some people is synonymous with the word alcoholic. I get that it’s completely different if you live in a conservative place and have a more normal job but I don’t feel any sort of stigma at all. When I published my first book about addiction, in 2005, no one was out there talking about addiction. Now that so many other people are out there talking about addiction—now that there’s even such a thing as a “sober influencer”—I think the stigma decreases more and more every day.
Do you think your career would be where it is today had you not tuned your mess into your message?
Frankly, I’m terrible at writing about anything but myself. I worked as a journalist for many years but was never great at it and while I published two novels, the only one that’s any good is based so much on my life that HarperCollins labeled it “reality fiction.” If I’d stayed doing what I started off doing—writing profiles of celebrities for magazines—I definitely wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now. But I also think that often the story behind the story is the more interesting one. I wrote a memoir for a celebrity where what went on behind the scenes was a million times more fascinating than what he would tell me when I interviewed him. I was able to finally write about that experience in Make Your Mess Your Memoir and the one chapter in my new book is filled with more about what he’s really like than the entire book I wrote for him.
What kind of life experiences do you think make the most interesting books?
I really don’t think the specifics matter that much. I always tell people that my life isn’t that interesting, but I’ve still made it into eight books and hundreds of articles. Everything is execution, and I think most ideas are worthless because how good they end up being depends on the skill of the writer. Eat Pray Love is a book about a woman going on a trip and yet it sold millions of copies. There are surely many books about people going on trips that have sold almost no copies.
Still, the mess is where the message is—and that’s good because most people who are being honest have pretty messy lives. I think the more you share about the mess, the more people are going to relate to you.
What are the benefits of self-publishing that make it a better model for many compared to traditional publishing?
The only reason to do traditional publishing today is to have the prestige associated with it. But after having six books traditionally published, I don’t think I’d ever do it again. Traditional publishing, unless you’re someone like Elizabeth Gilbert, really is a countdown to heartbreak. You give up control over the editing, the cover design, even the title name and you kill yourself working on the book, sometimes for years. Then, with few exceptions, when your book comes out, your publisher doesn’t do anything to help you. Traditional publishers aren’t trying to do harm; they just don’t seem to prepare their authors for the fact that only a few books each season are going to hit and most writers will go broke trying to live on their book advances.
With self-publishing, you get to make all the decisions, keep all the proceeds and most importantly use the book to build your career—whether that’s through putting newsletter sign-up opportunities in your book, leading readers into a funnel or using the book as a tool to sign clients or build a coaching business. Of course, a self-published book isn’t going to be very good quality if you’re not working with people who come from the world of traditional publishing. That’s why my company, which offers all the benefits of traditional publishing but allows clients full control and proceeds, is so busy!
Can you share a few tips for the writing process for people who have never written professionally before?
Follow a structure. (I offer one here.) Commit to writing every day and remain consistent. Find accountability partners, even if it’s just a friend you’re checking in with the whole time you’re writing. Rewrite. Rewrite again. Hire an editor. And read! The best writers are the ones who love language and are extremely familiar with it.