How to Write a Book: A Focus on Conviction

How to Write a Book: A Focus on Conviction

How to Write a Book Part 1: A Focus on Conviction

I have a friend whose ex-husband drove an Uber for a while. As soon as there was a surge, he’d drop everything, and jump into his car to take advantage of the higher fee. It caused chaos in their family life. She described it like a drug or gambling addiction. He responded to the surge notification with a dopamine hit and bolted out the door no matter whether they were in the middle of a family meal or socializing with friends.

As creative people, we have to be super vigilant about becoming reliant on externally generated dopamine hits, like the uber surge notification, to feed our creative process. Applause. Awards. Publishing deals. Facebook likes. Retweets. While it’s important to get feedback and to know that our work is connecting with an audience, I believe this validation must defer to something far more reliable. We cannot outsource self-trust, or what I call, conviction.

I know creative people who make a career out of self-doubt. They are always looking for someone else to tell them they’re good enough, or they have permission or they should give up their day job and go full tilt into their passion. Only if someone (in this case, a publishing house) tells them they can write a book, do they believe it (and not for long – this kind of feedback fetish requires ongoing maintenance – the ego, after all is a hungry ghost).

This distrust of self becomes a creative stutter.

So the first strength I teach aspiring authors who want to write and publish a book is this: self belief. It trumps so called ‘talent.’ It’s the foundation of finding your writing voice. And once you hold it energetically, it becomes a guardian of the creative process. Think of it this way: if you do not fundamentally believe you have something worth saying, it doesn’t matter how much of the craft you learn. You’ll never put anything you’ve written out there. What will people say and think?

What gets in the way of conviction is a complex matrix of self-limiting ideas and beliefs, including perfectionism, jealousy, comparison, people-pleasing, attachment to approval, vagueness and indecisiveness, playing small, taking feedback personally, hesitation, small-mindedness, feeling victimized by your life or circumstances and a fixed (as opposed to growth) mindset.

My signature Author Awakening Adventure shows writers how to self-diagnose if they suffer from a lack of conviction, and then elucidates the steps to take to harness self-assurance, a robust sense of self worth and self-esteem. I teach people to reframe ‘mistakes,’ ‘shames’ and ‘failures’ as rich repositories for their stories and their creative process. As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote in his poem ‘Last night as I was sleeping,’ we have to ‘make sweet honey from old failures.’ What else could all our beautiful broken pieces be for?

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

We begin by shifting our consciousness from ruthless self-critique to radical self-compassion. Once when I was spiraling into self pity about some terrible mothering mistake I had made my husband told me to ‘stop beating myself up just because it was my fault.’ Humour is a great reframer. When we can laugh – even giggle out loud – at ourselves, we lighten up. The paradox is that it’s only when we stop taking ourselves so seriously, that we actually begin to take ourselves seriously as a creative person.

The greatest strength we develop in the creative life is self-trust.

You produce something and you feel it: wow, that works. That really works.

It requires us to engage in self celebrating behaviour. To say yes to our writing. To say no to bullshit. To burrow into our intuition and to listen to its song.

I have known traditional success (book deals, #1 Amazon best sellers, international best sellers) and I have known their ugly twins – the ‘failures,’ the ‘we’re-pulping-your-book’ emails, the shitty one star reviews on Amazon. If I were to measure my worth as a writer based on either of these, I’d be flirting with the same devil – both are false positives.

Success cannot be something we let others define for us.

One of my books, Love in the Time of Contempt: consolations for parents of teenagers sold much more poorly than I had hoped, only a few thousand copies. I was bitterly disappointed given how much work I had put into not only the writing, but the launch – I’d run a campaign called A Million Connected Parents, given away free copies of the book to early adopters – it had taken up six months of my life and I invested my entire advance into the campaign.

A year after publication, long after I had gotten over the disappointment, I received an email from a woman in Korea, who wrote:

Dear Joanne,

Hello from Korea.

I have read your book(love in time of contempt)

And I’d like to say thank you so much.

I’m a mother of 32 months’ kids.

My daughter is so far until teenager.

But I was helped you.

Sometimes I left her in another room for punishment

Recently I think It’s not good.

But I don’t know how to do

In your book, I found answer.

After reading your book, I stand beside her.

It’s very good.

Thanks, Fiona

There is no algorithm that guarantees that any book will succeed or sell. So we cannot judge ourselves or our book by how it sells.

What this has taught me is that I can’t allow others to decide what value I place on my book. Not a publisher. Not reviewers. Not even buyers. You, the author, must love your book. It must be your beloved, for whom you would do anything.

When we have conviction, we don’t allow others to define what success means. Royalties are wonderful – we all want them – and godknows, authors bloody deserve them. But a book has more than commercial value in this world if it changes someone’s life.

‘In your book, I found answer…’

If you’d like to take the Author Potential Profile Assessment to see how you score on conviction, you can do so here.

If you’re ready to take your self-belief to new heights and to join the Author Awakening Adventure, you can pre-enrol for our next intake here.

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Mistakes to Avoid When You Write a Self-Help Book

Mistakes to Avoid When You Write a Self-Help Book

I’m such a huge fan of a great self-help book which can raise our vibrational frequency if the author wrote it with energetic integrity – not from a place of ego, but rather as a transmitter of wisdom and as an act of service to the reader. A book like this is often the hard-won result of the author’s struggles, and is imbued with wisdom, perspective, insight and compassion. Such books help readers to suffer less and feel less alone in their suffering.

Writing a self-help book can be a gift to readers that can potentially transform them. I’ve read hundreds of them (some brilliant, some awful) and have read numerous submissions by aspiring authors looking for publication with Joanne Fedler Media. Based on my experience, here are some guidelines to help you write a self-help book:

  • Establish your credibility upfront: your credibility may be the result of an experience you have survived or because of your professional expertise. Tell us upfront what your story is and why and how you came to write this book. Readers want to know they are in safe hands – they want to know who the author is, what credentials we have for writing this book – professional, experiential;
  • Start with your experience, not the lessons learned: your experience has yielded your insights – so start with your experience, not the ‘lessons’ or ‘insights’ you learned from them. Allow your reader to experience your transformation with you, and allow them to journey towards your insights instead of foisting them on your readers;
  • Be clear on who your target market is and write with your reader in mind: People who are not your family will only be interested in your book if it is objectively uplifting and inspiring. It’s not enough for you to simply record what you went through – what insights or growth occurred as a result of your experience?
  • Just because it happened to you, doesn’t make it relevant to others: be sure to write about your journey in such a way that you cross the bridge between the personal (what happened to you) with the universal (why it’s relevant to your reader);
  • Let your reader walk in your shoes to get to the transformation: though you may be at the end of your transformation, remember that your reader has not traversed that path with you. Pace and structure the book so your reader has a chance to ‘catch up’ and experience the transition, walk through the highs and lows with you. Otherwise the journey you describe may seem fanciful or ‘reserved for spiritual VIP’s only.’ If your book is about grief, make sure the reader is allowed to experience the grief, otherwise the strength of the transformation is lost, or is leap-frogged over, and becomes a spiritual bypassing, which can feel unprocessed;
  • Show us your journey, don’t just tell us what you learned: show your reader what actions you took, what conversations happened, in order to show us how you ‘changed your mind’ or a had a ‘realisation’ or an ‘insight.’ It’s not enough to say, ‘I realised… I was being watched over / I couldn’t control the outcome / I had to surrender / I was in control of how I felt…’ etc. Show us the transformation (from fear to faith, illness to health, grief to acceptance) and make sure you keep your reader with you through the transition otherwise she will be unable to identify with it. Use scenes in order to show us the moments in which you changed;
Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

  • Don’t rush: in the wake of a loss or a change, writing can be cathartic and healing but it is not going to be the writing that you want to share with the world. A self-helpbook about any meaningful experience can only be written in time. I am a great believer in letting things take their time and not rushing the river, especially the river of loss and grief. Its insights are often startling, but we need patience to harvest them. A self-help book should be a wise guide by someone with expanded perspective – make sure you have given yourself enough time and space to process your experience before writing about it. A story can only be written when an experience has worked its way through us, when it has been deeply digested, richly conceived;
  • Your beliefs don’t make us trust you: what you believe is irrelevant unless it is based on your experience – so show us a story which gives us a reason to trust your beliefs. What you believe does not in itself establish credibility. As my favourite character The Dude in The Big Lebowski says, ‘That’s just like, your opinion, man.’ And you know what they say about opinions… Readers need to trust us for our opinions to hold weight;
  • Beware of self-help cliches: anyone who has done any self-help work knows the basic tenets of living a responsible, empowered life: don’t be attached to the outcome, don’t be a victim, practice kindness, gratitude, meditation, slow down, actions have consequences and so on. By focusing on the same universal truths, self-help books run the risk of repeating spiritual clichés which lose their lustre and fail to inspire us because they are so over-used. They must therefore offer something new or original to a reader– even simply a new framework or a reshaping of these ideas. When it comes to self help, a reader needs to feel the nuance of our different take even as we express the same time-honoured truths, so remember that you have enough experience and credibility to reinvent and reinterpret universal spiritual lessons;
  • Quote others sparingly: you don’t need to bolster your views with other self-help gurus: quoting Brandon Bays or Eckhard Tolle or Deepak Chopra doesn’t give your ideas more weight. In fact, quoting others dilutes the strength of your originality. Also, who cares? This is your book, not theirs. And if you do use quotes, be aware that you need copyright permission for them all if you are to publish;
  • Speak to your readers as equals not from a podium: one of the biggest mistakes I see people make in writing self-help books is in the tone or style – if it comes across as didactic, it’s easy to lose your reader. Keep the tone self-compassionate not patronizing or self-aggrandizing. Nobody likes to be lectured to or spoken down to, and even if we don’t intend this, our tone might still come off as if we’re a ‘know-it-all.’ Bring us with you, don’t preach. This will happen naturally when you find your original writing voice so spend time working towards that;
  • Be original: create your own unique framework based on your experience. No-one has had the experience you have had, and so you are in a unique position to create an alchemy from it, combined with all the spiritual reading or research you’ve done and come up with your own framework, recipe or ideas. Be creative and original. Figure out the through-line or overarching theme that ties everything together;
  • Simplify your message: boil the message of your book down to one single paragraph, then one sentence then one phrase or even one word so that you know the message of your book simply and concisely.

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I often get asked how I became a published author. How did 600 000 copies of my books get sold? How come publishers now approach me to write books for them? I wish I had a recipe I could share like Jamie Oliver so that everyone out there could do the same.

But life recipes turn out differently in the kitchens of each of our hearts and circumstances.

Though we control our own effort, grace also weighs in there to some mysterious degree. I suspect the personality of our effort – open, humble and resilient as opposed to attached, needy and desperate may have something to do with success – but who knows? We all do our best.

I’ve reached a place in my own writing career where I feel that if I don’t write any more books, it will be okay. I have said much of what I want to share. The next phase of my life is about helping others to find their authentic writing voices and get their books published.

But I see aspiring authors stumble over the same problems. So I’m going to identify the most common ones and offer suggestions for getting past them.

First up: most beginner writers don’t understand the writing process or where they are in it. They’re lost. They don’t know where or how to start.

Writing a book is daunting. The task can feel overwhelming. Most people have no clue what writing a book entails. Many people start, and don’t get very far. Or they don’t start at all. Or they write a whole lot of bits and don’t know how to put them all together. Or they get stuck. Or they finish and they can’t get published. So let’s just begin with the beginning. Getting some sentences down on the page every day.

Try these:

  • Read books that can guide you and give you specific writing exercises to start the writing process – I recommend Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write or Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind.
  • Just start writing anywhere: the itch on your nose; the jackhammering outside your window, the temperature gauge on your fridge that’s stuck and freezing the milk. Don’t worry about where it will go.
  • Draw it – draw your story or book as a map. You can always stray from the map.
  • Write on index cards – bits you can write in one-hour increments.
  • Don’t worry about the beginning, middle and end. Just write. Structuring comes much later. You need to know where you are in the process and trust that what comes next will in fact, come next.
  • Break the immense task down into small-bite sized chunks. You aren’t a python, you don’t need to swallow the thing whole — you don’t need to know how your book ends, or even what will happen. You just need to start it. And keep working away at it, scene by scene, or chapter by chapter. Shawshank it. You can tunnel your way out of a maximum-security prison one pocketful of dirt at a time.
  • If you get stuck, use this as inspiration: ‘Write hard and clear about what hurts.’ Ernest Hemingway said that.

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I decided I didn’t like him and hoped I’d never bump into him again. But Yale Law School isn’t a big place and we ended up in several classes together. He was annoyingly smart and incisive. He challenged all the professors – so I realised our initial encounter wasn’t unusual. And as my year at Yale went on, Van Jones became one of my closest friends.

He introduced me to Prince’s music.

He read my essays and told me to write less complicated sentences. ‘Keep it simple with a subject, a verb and an object.’

He was a commanding presence and headed up a hunger strike in response to the internment of the Haitians on Guantanamo Bay, rallying students and academics.


We graduated from Yale together and without family to celebrate with, I was so grateful to be invited by his parents to join them for graduation dinner.

I knew back then he’d do something significant with his life.

As the years have passed, I’ve watched him navigate the highs as well as the lows of his career, from working in the Obama administration, to being a CNN reporter during and post the election of Trump, to him now hosting his own TV show, The Van Jones Show. He’s the author of three New York Times bestselling books, including his most recent, Beyond The Messy Truth. He’s a gifted thinker and speaker.

This month, I managed to corner him for an hour, to talk to him about the qualities that make him who he is. I’m so excited to share this inspiring interview with one of the most powerful voices of our time.

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Joanne Fedler Media Spotlight: Jess Zlotnick

Joanne Fedler Media Spotlight: Jess Zlotnick

‘The purpose of freedom is to free someone else.’
-Toni Morrison


I started mentoring writers ten years ago to save myself from starvation as an author in a climate of declining advances and book sales.

But something happened in the teaching that saved me from another form of hunger – attachment to ego. The more I taught writers to find their voices, the more meaningful my life felt.

I began to understand that my journey as a successful author had simply been the way for me to pave a path for others. The purpose of my ‘success’ was to help others be successful, to paraphrase Toni Morrison.

I told my writers, ‘If you finish your books, I will do whatever it takes to help you get published.’ I intended to lean on all my international contacts with agents and publishers. But what nagged at me was that I couldn’t guarantee they would find an interested publisher.

In the middle of 2017, while mentoring 18 writers who had committed to their writing for years, it suddenly struck me – the only way I could ensure certainty of outcome for them was to become a publisher myself.

And so I did. Joanne Fedler Media was born to honour my writers, to bring their work into the world in the event that they are unable to secure a traditional publisher (if that is their first choice).

In the coming years, many of the writers I have mentored will be ready to publish.

Joanne Fedler Media will be there – either as Plan A or Plan B to ensure their success. We will publish memoir, inspiring fiction, poetry and self-help books – many of the genres in which first-time authors struggle to find traditional publishers. All our books will embody our values of using our words to inspire, nourish and grow the spirit.

Little Wings Books is our children’s books imprint in partnership with Karen McDermott, an experienced and heart-centred book publisher in Perth who has mentored me through the publication of our first few books.

I will use my platform as an internationally bestselling author to launch these new voices.

But authors need readers, which is where YOU come in.

I so hope you will become part of our community and support our authors by buying and reviewing their books so they can share their message with a wider audience. Thank you in advance for being part of our mission to light the world with books that make a difference by first-time authors traditional publishers sometimes overlook.

In upcoming newsletters, we will shine a light on one of our emergent or emerging authors. This month, our spotlight is on debut author Jess Zlotnick.


A children’s book for adults as well as little people.


What kind of sad are you?

It’s the sort of question that brings to mind John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a treasury of invented words for uncommon sadnesses.

And it’s the question at the heart of What Mouse Knew, an exquisitely illustrated children’s book by debut author and artist Jess Zlotnick.

Rat is sad and doesn’t know why, so his friend Mouse sends him on a journey of self-discovery. He returns knowing that he is ‘lonely-sad.’ And right then, his friendship with Mouse becomes a refuge.

What Mouse Knew by Jess Zlotnick

The book began as a high school art project when Jess was just 16. She made and bound the book on black paper and executed it with simple white line drawings.

I fell in love with this story and its sparse, delicate illustrations.

What Mouse Knew by Jess Zlotnick

But here’s the snag: Jess is my daughter, and as such, I had to exercise extreme vigilance that I wasn’t just being a Jewish mother.

I showed it to a friend, an award winning children’s book author. She encouraged me to try find a publisher and gave me the name of an editor at Penguin. ‘Send it to her,’ she said. So I did.

The editor loved it enough to take it to an acquisitions meeting. But she wanted to bring another illustrator on board to replace the line drawings.

‘But the illustrations are what make the book,’ Jess huffed. ‘I don’t want to compromise my artistic integrity.’

‘Integrity, Shmetegrity,’ I advised. ‘This is Penguin.’

In the end, Penguin passed on it.

I didn’t get the feeling Jess was sorry.

What Mouse Knew by Jess Zlotnick

But I have always wanted to see this little book in the world.

I was just waiting for the right moment.

Today, Jess turns 21. And today, my gift to her (it’s a surprise and it’s been hell, I tell you, keeping it a secret for six months) is to launch What Mouse Knew: a little story of friendship as the first children’s book published by Joanne Fedler Media. I know it is also a gift to readers everywhere.

Five years ago, Jess wrote this for Penguin about the story behind the book:

I’m not a stranger to loneliness.

I’m sure everyone’s felt alone at some point in their lives.

This started as an art assignment for school: to create a children’s book which worked on an artistic as well as a narrative level.

Once I started, I felt as if I didn’t control the story, but that it wrote itself. I wanted to write a story that everyone could relate to, so I wrote about something we all know: loneliness; and try to show that we might not be as alone as we think.

I was bullied. A lot. Primary school was torture for me, so much so that I’ve blocked out most of those memories. What I do remember is that feeling of isolation: that there was no-one on my side, that the world was against me.

What I’ve come to realise is that there are people there for me, even when it’s not that obvious. Mouse is my mum, the friends I’ve made since the bullying, the friends I’ve been able to keep, anyone who’s told me I am worth something, anyone who’s put a smile on my face.

I just hope that this book will help other kids see that even when they don’t understand why they feel so bad, that it will pass, and that there are people they can count on. I hope those kids will be reminded that it’s okay to place faith in others, and that when you feel alone, you also have to make the effort to reach out.

What Mouse Knew by Jess Zlotnick

What kind of sad are you?


A story about loneliness and the gift of friendship.

If you loved The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, this book is for you.

Please celebrate this launch with us today by purchasing a copy (or two or three) for a child in your life (or for the lonely child in your own heart) here:


Get Your Copy Here


Thank you so much for supporting a brand new author and Joanne Fedler Media.

It’s the first of many beautiful children’s books we will publish to inspire, uplift and nourish young readers.

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Honestly I’ve heard them all. Hell, I’ve used them all. I’ve had ten books published, have six or seven partially-written manuscripts saved in three different computers and dozens of journals, have mentored hundreds of writers, and even published a few through Joanne...

Don’t Tell Me the Moon is Shining: A Golden Rule of Writing for Aspiring Authors

Anton Chekhov wrote, ‘Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’ One of the trickier 'golden rules of great writing’ that can be difficult to understand and execute is the ‘show don’t tell’ rule. What does it mean? It's the...

The Stories Our Wardrobes Tell

‘Can I wear this?’ my teenage daughter asked, holding up a black silk shirt from my wardrobe. ‘I need a black top for drama and I don’t have one.’ ‘Ummmm….’ I paused, remembering that the last time I wore that shirt, it was ripped off me in a moment of passion by a...

A Harvest of Hindsight: My top 10 insights about publishing for aspiring authors

My being here is actually not about me. It’s about you. My new book is about you – and your story. So I thought what would be the most helpful input I could give you, as an unpublished author at this point in your writing journey. Here are my top 10 insights or lessons that I’ve learned over the past 12 years as a published author. Things I wish I’d known. A harvest of hindsight in the hope that it will help you to get more quickly where you want to go.

A Simple Exchange of Niceties

Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake. - Wallace Stevens The first available appointment was for next week only. That was in nine days time. Enough time for hands, brains, eyelids and knee joints to form according to the charts. I took a walk. I needed...