MF 373 : Writing series: Suzanne Brown ("Mompowerment" book series)
Updated: Jun 16, 2022
Suzanne Brown, author of the "Mompowerment" book series, returns to the podcast to talk about her journey as an author and shares how to mind map a book and the secret to delivering the content your audience wants. More at www.bemovingforward.com.
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Suzanne is one of my favorite Moving Forward alum. We connected through Twitter and the Winnie Sun tweet chat community. She came on the show to talk about work-life balance and now is back as part of this series to talk about writing two-award winning books in her “Mompowerment” series. Suzanne has an interesting take on being a writer. Unlike most of the guests on this mini-series, she never intended nor particularly desired to write a book. This wasn’t one of her big life goals. So, how exactly did she end up writing not one but two books? We explore that, and why sometimes the decision to be an author isn’t yours to make.
Who is Suzanne and what does she do?
Suzanne is first and foremost a mom. She is based in Austin, Texas and describes herself as a “multi-passionate entrepreneur.” Suzanne worked for 12 years in the corporate world while juggling a side gig for 7-8 years. She eventually left to focus full-time on being a strategic marketing and business consultant, and a work-life balance speaker and consultant. As to the latter, Suzanne is a two-time author on the subject with both books being award winners. Both books are branded as part of her “Mompowerment” business.
For our prior conversation on Suzanne’s work-life balance work, check out episode 130.
Not a bucket list goal but rather a calling
Suzanne never envisioned herself as a book author. She is a prolific writer, having penned countless articles and is well versed in business writing but never had any desire to write a book much less two. Suzanne had what can be described as a “calling” to write a book on work-life balance for moms. After her son was born, Suzanne negotiated going part-time with her manager. As a result, she started receiving “tons of question” from colleagues, friends, and other working moms. It got to the point where answering these questions was taking too much of her time. As Suzanne shares, she didn’t go part-time just so “she could have a series of coffees.” Moreover, canned emails weren’t an effective way for her to share her best practices. Suzanne wanted to point her queries to a resource detailing how to transition to a part-time role as a professional. To her chagrin, she discovered there wasn’t one that existed at the time. Meanwhile as Suzanne was having these conversations with fellow working moms she heard over and over their wish for a book that detailed how to do this. That’s when it hit Suzanne that she needed to write the definitive book on the subject.
Ok, marketplace, I’ll write two
Suzanne had over 110 conversations, which she documented; many of which became primary source research for her first book. Upon release, the book was very well received except for one thing. Suzanne started receiving more queries, this time asking for “when” she will write the book on work-life balance aimed at people who aren’t specifically looking to go part-time. As we discuss, it wasn’t enough that many of her tips in her first book were applicable to this audience as well. There was market demand for another book. Moreover, Suzanne realized she could craft a wholly different book for this audience. As Suzanne describes she had ingredients left over from the “first salad” that she could make into a “second salad.” From there, Suzanne interviewed more people to further supplement her research and penned a second book.
Her audience helped
Suzanne’s process was very different from most of the authors I’ve spoken with. Rather than tell a story and find the market for it, the market spoke to her. Suzanne tapped into this, getting feedback on the substance of what should go into the book. Imagine a group of readers telling you exactly what they want, knowing you are the subject matter expert. That’s the position Suzanne was in. As a result, everything from the title to the cover design was driven by reader feedback. As she explains, this is why both books have similar titles. Her audience told her to maintain similar titles with slight differentiation, along with a different color for the covers so they could be easily distinguised. In essence, Suzanne reversed engineered the book writing process so that she could deliver exactly what her audience wanted.
Suzanne was led by a big why
Suzanne’s desire, or lack thereof, to write a book wasn’t due to hesitancy or fear. Rather, she wanted to be of most value to her audience. In her mind, speaking was the best way to deliver her expertise. It never occurred to her that a book could supplement and complement that goal. That she wrote two books is purely a result of her interviewees, her audience, and her most ardent fans letting her know that there was a demand for them.
The secret map to Suzanne’s writing process
While the demand was strong, the practical reality is that writing a book takes time. One of my favorite aspects of Suzanne’s personality is that she’s optimistic yet pragmatic. We see a lot of messaging, especially on social media, that writing a book is as easy as composing a tweet. Not so fast. Writing a book takes time, skill, and expertise, all led by a big why. Moreover, Suzanne is the embodiment of her life’s work. She is herself a busy professional with a family so finding the time to write a book required overcoming some logistical challenges. It took Suzanne three years to complete the interviews and do the research for the first book. She not only wrote the book on work-life balance, but her writing it is a living testament and test of the principles and strategies she wrote about. To help her along the way, Suzanne worked with a book strategist and formulated a mind map. As Suzanne explains, a mind-map is a visual outline of your book with the topic in the center, encircled with lines branching out into subtopics. From there, you can build out a wagon wheel pattern of more topics. The mind-maps became an organizational chart of chapters for Suzanne’s books. As for her daily writing, Suzanne broke it down to an hour a day with a goal of 1000 words each session. All of this helped Suzanne find her writing flow, taking the pressure off by not looking at a book as a restrictive chapter 1-chapter 2-chapter 3… mountain to climb. Moreover, the mind-map method allowed Suzanne to jump back and forth between chapters depending on what her energy and mood was on a particular day. If one day, she wanted to focus on writing about financials, she could do so without being confined to a linear chapter-by-chapter structure.
The power of beta readers
Suzanne shares a brilliant tip that she used with her books. Rather than go to an editor, she sent the book to a group of beta readers first. Suzanne did this to make sure she got feedback on the content, specifically whether the book covered the topics her readers wanted to read about and at the right level. Suzanne made the draft as polished as possible but added the disclaimer to her beta readers not to focus on grammar. Once she had her content feedback, Suzanne could go back and make strategic changes and additions. After that was done she workEd with an editor to get it polished. The reason Suzanne recommends this order is because it’s a lot easier to move things around and make substantive changes while in the drafting process than post-editing. In other words, by the time it was ready for an editor, the content would be locked in based on reader feedback. Suzanne was also on a schedule crunch as she wanted to get her book out at the optimal time. In the case of a book for working moms, Suzanne determined her market was most open to change at the first day of school, meaning September. Thus her target completion date for her draft was late spring / early summer.
Use a mind-map to make the process less linear and more of a “wagon wheel.” This allows you to work on chapters or content that you may feel more inspired to write about on a particular day. In other words, you don’t have to write chapter 2, simply because it’s the next chapter. If you’re inspired about chapter 7 content on a particular day, a mind-map process gives you the flexibility to do that.
If you can identify your target audience, get their feedback on what they want to see and read. This can help you shape the book in the writing and pre-editing process.
Suzanne reminds us that we do not write in a bubble. Life interrupts us all the time. If you’re writing and can’t finish the goal (one hour or 1000 words), finish your thought and jot down or bullet point what you wanted to cover next. This will make it easier to return to later on.
Finally, writing a book is not for everyone. You may find your inspiration or content works better as a blog, short story, or podcast. Try out other forms before committing to a book. Think about your book as a business. Look at the perspective of your audience and figure out what they need and the best way to deliver the content to them. Figure out how your book fits holistically into your business or brand.
For more on Suzanne's work-life balance tips, check out #MFPodcast 130
Connect with Suzanne:
Mompowerment: Insights from Successful Professional Part-Time Working Moms Who Balance Career and Family
The Mompowerment Guide to Work-Life Balance: Insights from Working Moms on Balancing Career and Family
Check out the Moving Forward mini-series collection
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