Why my book almost didn’t happen (and how I roared)

written by Bari Tessler September 12, 2016
roar-couch-2

Today, I stand before you, the author of a beautiful book … that almost didn’t happen.

One bewildering night, last September, I realized: I might have to call the whole thing off.

In that heartbreaking moment, the entire project flashed before my eyes. The months of work my team and I had poured into the manuscript. The years I’d dreamt of being an author. My book, my reputation, my methodology, my life’s work. It was all on the line. And I had a HUGE decision to make.

Every journey has its beauty and its challenges. Its easeful parts and its tough spots.

My book-writing journey had many beautiful, graceful parts: brilliant ah-ha moments with my co-writer, the fairy-tale story of my publisher, Parallax Press, reaching out to me, and that incredible moment when I first held the book in my hands.

But there were also tough parts. And last September, I found myself smack-dab in the middle of the Great Big Hard Part of the journey.

Let me set the scene.

By last September, my co-writer, Angela Raines, and I had spent six months writing the book’s manuscript. That’s a lot of time (and money) to invest in a project — but in terms of birthing a book, it’s a breakneck speed. Somehow, we had done it: met every single deadline along the way, and arrived at the end with a massive, 120,000 word manuscript.

We cried. We drank champagne together over Skype. And then … we waited.

For the next few weeks, our manuscript would live with our editor, who (we thought) would respond with suggestions for polishing and trimming it down. We were all eager to hear our editor’s experienced ideas about how to make our book even better.

I loved our editor. She was the maven who’d first introduced me to my publisher: because she believed in my work and knew I’d be a great fit. I knew I was in good hands: she saw me and grokked my unique voice, vision, and work. Even though she asked us not to send along a single chapter along the way (she wanted to wait for the full vision), I trusted her expertise.

A month after that champagne party when we sent her our manuscript, we got our response from the editor. We dove into it like children opening a long-awaited birthday present.

I turned page after page … horrified.

She hadn’t just made suggestions or stylistic edits. She had ripped the soul out of my book. She had demolished my three-phase methodology (honed over 15 years of this work) and moved it around in a way that made it far less effective. She had deleted essential elements from my process, and requested I add in others that were totally misaligned with my teachings. She had drained the warmth and playfulness from my voice. She had cut our 120,000 words down to 70,000 — but more tragically, had cut the heart right out of it.

When my husband, Forest, read it, he said: “It’s like she Frankensteined it. She ripped the leg off and shoved it into the belly; tore off an arm and put it where the head should be. It’s not even the same book.” Yes, that sounds awfully dramatic — but it’s exactly how we all felt.

Our editor had turned my warm, memoir-style book into something that sounded like any of a dozen other mainstream financial management books. Now, there are some good financial management books out there. But I didn’t think the world needed another one — especially from me. I wanted to share my own methodology and voice in this book. And suddenly, the editor had drained our manuscript of my unique style and concepts.

It was cold. Masculine. Boring. Like Dave Ramsey with lipstick.

My whole team was bewildered, heartbroken, and shocked. None of us could stomach the idea of working through this new, dismantled/destroyed manuscript. We missed the warmth and clarity of our original manuscript, and wanted to throw this Frankensteined version into a fire and never look at it again.

I went into an emotional tailspin, a million thoughts a minute:

  • How could she have missed the mark, missed my voice, missed my life’s work, so completely?
  • Had she even read the detailed book proposal we sent her, the 70+ articles on my site, and all the teaching materials I’d given her access to?
  • Had I hallucinated that feeling of connection with her? Maybe she never understood what me and my work are about?
  • Is this a normal level of editing, and I just don’t know this because I’m new to it?
  • Am I supposed to simply acquiesce to this, since I have the great fortune of being published by a publisher?!
  • Is there any planet upon which this is a better book? (NO.)
  • Am I overreacting here, or being a diva? Or is this really as horrendous as I think?

And, the most important question of all:

What on earth am I going to do, now?

I knew I had to decide just what I was willing to compromise on and what was non-negotiable. For this book. For my life’s work. For me and for all the people across the world that it could serve.

 

I found myself in a fiery rite of passage, which had everything to do with knowing and claiming my value.

 

Would I crumble, get submissive, and accept this Frankensteined book my publisher wanted?

Would I lash out in anger and grief, and burn an incredibly important bridge?

Would I fight for what I knew, deep in my bones, based on decades of experience, was right?

Would I simply walk away?

Suddenly, it hit me: I had been here, before.

I’ve told the story of my huge business “failure,” when I tried to work with SoundsTrue, many years ago. I was all set to do an 11-CD audio teaching for them. But once I stepped into the isolation of the studio, nothing came alive. I failed. Both parties stepped away from the contract.

In the years since, I milked this “failure” for all it was worth. I realized: I hadn’t known how to set myself up to succeed in this process. I hadn’t yet learned what I needed to create the best content: I should have asked for a group of students to be with me, in the studio, so I could interact with them and teach directly to them. It took a long time for me to recover from the shame of this “failure” and realize what a blessing it was: it had shown me what I was great at (relational, interactive teaching) and what I sucked at (teaching in isolation).

I emerged from this wreckage with more clarity and conviction about who I am, what my work is, and how I work best. My business and teaching model grew in leaps and bounds, after this “failure,” as did my sense of who I am, who I’m not, and what my value is.

This “failure” at SoundsTrue was one of a series of moments in my life where I revolutionized my relationship to power. It’s been a long, challenging road for me to learn to claim my power and claim my voice. Learning to claim my value has been my great, big, nut to crack. My main money koan.

I know life will keep bringing me opportunities to work with this value riddle — like that moment I saw the edited manuscript. It’s still hard. But, thankfully, I can rely on the years of inner work I’ve done, and tools I’ve gathered to support me.

 

How  I deal with a crisis of value

 

  • Name what’s happening, if only to yourself. This is surprisingly helpful. “I’m having a hard time knowing how to claim my value, here,” or, “I’m scared that I may have to walk away.”
  • Take your time. You might need a few hours or even days to understand what’s going on and how to stand in your value. I often need to take myself into nature and seek trustworthy counsel before writing that letter or hopping on the phone.
  • Deep breaths. Body Check-Ins all the live-long day.
  • Self-care. Hikes. Good food. Conscious movement. It’s incredibly difficult to make great decisions when we’re tired, sluggish, or under-nourished.
  • Remember: age is on our side, here. You’ve surely been someplace like this, before. And you got through it. Rely on your past successes — even if these looked like “failures.”
  • Know: claiming our value is inner and outer work. It takes internal reflection, emotional maturity, and wisdom. (Journal those thoughts, process those feelings, dance it out, rely on your emotional and spiritual practices.) And it also requires external steps: savvy business structures, smart moves that reflect and embody your inner knowing of your value.
  • Welcome support. I count myself incredibly lucky to have a husband, co-writer, community, and whole team of talented and loving people who truly see me, get my work, and can reflect my true self back to me, when I’m spinning out.

 

Receiving that Frankensteined manuscript from my editor was a huge Challenge Moment. But thankfully: I was ready.

 

I tuned into myself. I asked what I was willing to compromise on, in this book. And (this is important) I trusted the answers that came.

My entire body gave me a big, resounding, “No way” to these edits.

My entire body knew: this was simply too important to compromise on.

My entire body remembered: this wasn’t just about me. This was about these teachings. This integral, holistic approach to money work is a crucial, missing ingredient in so many people’s educations.

My entire body relaxed as I claimed who I am and how I teach, best: in a feminine, deep, playful way.

My entire body softened and strengthened in the knowing: It was up to me to advocate for myself, for this work, for this book.

That was the inner work. Then came the external work.

I called my attorney and asked what I’d need to do, to get out of my contract. I learned I could take my manuscript to another publisher or self-publish, if I chose to. This would be hard: I would need to “not agree to the edits” and, of course, give back my advance. But it was possible.

I talked with my dear husband, my co-writer, and other trusted members in my inner circle. I got the reflection: yes, it was as bad as I thought; no, we couldn’t compromise in this way.

And then, I wrote one of the hardest letters of my life. I told my editor and publisher — clearly, directly, but with love — why these edits were light years off the mark and not something I could ever work with. I listened to my anger, grief and fear, but didn’t let them run the show — I translated them into a firm boundary … with open curiosity to how we might proceed. I told them I was heartbroken and unwilling to compromise my vision … and wasn’t sure how to proceed.

 

Then came an altogether unexpected happy twist.

 

Within 15 minutes, my publisher, Rachel Neumann, called me. She told me that she was heartbroken by my response to the editing, and reassured me that she would never publish anything I didn’t love and fully stand behind. She offered a solution I hadn’t dreamed of: she would hand-pick a new editor for me, and have them start anew from the original manuscript.

Rachel met my conviction with warmth, respect and true collaboration. I felt seen, heard, and taken under her wings again. I could tell: she believed in my vision, she appreciated my unique voice, and she was willing to stand behind me and my work. This was incredible for me.

Three days later, I got more good news: my dear publisher, Rachel, would edit the book, herself. This was an unexpectedly wonderful surprise! Though she had a background in book editing, she hadn’t done any since becoming the head of Parallax Publishing. My book wouldn’t just have the same publisher as Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh — it would have his editor, too!

 

A few weeks later, we received Rachel’s edits on our manuscript.

 

This was the level of editing I had hoped for. I could feel her trying to make the manuscript better instead of entirely changing it. Her edits were far fewer, lighter, and subtler, and felt like they were taking my book to the next level — not transforming it into something different.

She had kept my three-phase methodology intact. She had kept my voice. She made wonderful suggestions. Even though 30,000 words were still edited out, (compared to the first round of 50,000 words), it was a completely different editing experience. It was way more of a collaboration, dialogue and negotiation. 

This was the level of revising and compromising I was willing — even excited — to do!

In the months that followed my co-writer and I did many more rounds to infuse more warmth and playfulness and handholding and precision back into the book. I’m so grateful to Angela for all of her smart line edits and for being so committed, right along with me, to persevering and creating a spectacular, classic book that would deeply serve so many people. It took a ton of effort, and we had many compromises to make — but they were things I was willing to compromise on.

Sometimes, my co-writer and publisher/editor disagreed with each other. Sometimes, this was overwhelming for me. But again and again, I claimed my voice and my position as the woman who was steering the creative process, advocating for this book, and guiding us home.

The final result is a book I’m tremendously proud of.

It’s clear and warm and feminine. It has sold far better than anyone expected. A mere six weeks after it hit the shelves on June 14th, we sold out of the first printing and we are already on the second printing. 

Almost every review mentions how the book brings unexpected warmth, compassion, and femininity to the scary topic of money. Readers are surprised and grateful for this. And I know: it wouldn’t have been there, had I not fought for it.

It bears repeating:

Age is on our side when it comes to claiming our value.

I couldn’t have met a challenge this huge seven years ago, when I was crazily sleep-deprived with my newborn son. I couldn’t have met this challenge ten years ago, when I and my work weren’t fully matured. I couldn’t have met this challenge without surviving the “failure” with Sounds True and all the countless other challenges in my life, where I learned and claimed my value, brick by brick.

I’m so incredibly grateful for this fiery rite of passage, and all that’s come from it. I’m grateful for the challenges that came before it, and taught me how to claim my value. I’m grateful for my dear publisher, my co-writer, my husband, and all the other people who held this vision with me.

And I’m grateful for you, dear reader. I hope that the next time you reach a crisis of value, you can draw some strength from this story. Be patient with yourself: it takes time and practice to learn how to claim your value. But it is your birthright. And you can do it.

Be gentle with yourself. Even when life asks you to roar.

 

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