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Throughline: The "Wiring Diagram" for Building Your Book

Writing Lessons from HGTV Stars


Photo credit: Karolina Grabowska via PexelsPhoto credit: Karolina Grabowska via Pexels

[This post is an excerpt from our forthcoming book entitled, The How to Write a Book Book: Your Step-by-Step Plans for Bringing BIG IDEAS to Life One Page at a Time. Details below.]

Yvonne and I are big HGTV addicts fans. For me the functional parts fascinate most. Like, can they remove that wall? How can they fit in another bathroom? Will that landscaping provide proper drainage?

We live that stuff, as well. We’ve been together 16+ years and owned six homes. And as dozens of realtors could attest, I rarely walk into a house without thinking out loud, “Well, that wall’s gotta go . . . we could add two bedrooms and a bath in the unfinished basement . . . would this work as your office, if we cut a door here?”

That may help you understand why in our upcoming book, we constructed our writing advice around "Book Building" analogies. My own experiences in writing Read 'Em & Reap last year confirm the value in those analogies.

So when Yvonne showed me the Stories from the Trenches she'd collected over the years from our author friends to include in the book, I decided my contribution would offer a few specific lessons derived from the HGTV stars we enjoy watching together. Here are excerpts from that chapter:

Write the book you’re living in

I had been meaning, intending, planning, starting, outlining, researching . . . you get the idea . . . two other books, when it finally dawned on me that Read ‘Em & Reap was insisting on being written first.

That’s the only way I can describe the experience.

From within my research on learning, positive psychology, healthy aging, longevity, multi-generational workplaces, and more – intended for the other books – this one simply jumped the line and started pouring out of my head. In HGTV terms, the analogous lessons come from shows like Scott McGillivray’s Income Property and the emotional ties to their existing home that most show subjects exhibit on Love It or List It.

For those unfamiliar, Scott’s show revolves around helping homeowners who need extra income find space within their existing home, or in larger ones they’re looking to buy. Then he helps them transform the “found” space into a rentable unit. 

On Love It or List It, “Designer Hilary” and “Realtor David” work with couples who disagree about whether their existing home should be remodeled to work better for them, or sold to enable them to move to a new one. I don’t have hard data, but I’d estimate that 60-70% of the couples end up “loving it” due to their emotional attachment to the home, the neighborhood, the memories.

A lesson that emerges from both shows that you can apply to your book building project: there’s value to be found . . . and revealed . . . and shared, in the “place” you are living.

Your knowledge, your experience, your skills, your life lessons can help others. Find your book there.

Start with a plan, or steal one

For this lesson, we turn to Jonathan and Drew Scott, the Property Brothers. I love the way Jonathan creates 3-D renderings of how the various rooms in the rehabbed house will look when the project is completed. The plans help the clients envision – and Jonathan deliver – the home they desire.

As to the stealing, Drew often takes clients into an upscale neighborhood to show them real world examples of homes with their “must have” features. And then reveals how much over their budget it would cost to buy them move-in-ready! From there, Jonathan shows them how he can deliver those same features within their budget in a fixer-upper house.

These techniques work in book building, too.

For Read 'Em & Reap, I started by “stealing” my outline from a blog post on The Muse, 5 Science-Backed Reasons Why Readers Do Better in Their Careers. The post provided some “must have” features, but little more, devoting less than 500 words to all five combined.

Then, like Jonathan, I incorporated them into my first draft TOC. But I didn’t stop there. I added a sixth benefit of reading uncovered in my research. And I opened up a wider focus, expanding on the benefits of reading far beyond career impacts.

With that plan in hand, I was ready to start building . . . er, writing.

In-progress “reveals” and unplanned revisions

When I had the manuscript completed, I sent a galley out to a handful of “readers” to get their feedback and, hopefully, recommendation blurbs for the cover! Among them, Pamela Wilson, who had agreed to write a foreword.

Pamela read the galley overnight and wrote back saying she loved the book, but . . . she, somewhat cautiously, expressed her wish that I had spent more time on the tips for getting more reading into our lives. And on what to do with all that knowledge gained.

Her feedback birthed three new chapters, with entirely rewritten and expanded content.

My daugther's peceptive questions about the galley forced me to add the twelve page Preface.

Look at this stage as being similar to when experienced flippers, say Tarek and Christina on Flip or Flop, have a realtors-only open house to get feedback on their work. Or when Jonathan’s sometimes hovering clients tell him – well into the project – that they want a bigger island in the kitchen, or maybe find out they need a nursery!

Or when Chip Gains opens a wall on Fixer Upper, discovers hidden shiplap (if you watch the show, you know what’s coming). And then his wife and partner Joanna gets to call in the owner and get approval to redesign the feature wall in the family room!

In my case, the feedback I sought out revealed some serious problems in the “foundation” and “floorplan” of my book. So I went back to the keyboard and added three new rooms to the floorplan (Chs. 7-9) and deeper footings under the foundation (the Preface).

I am deeply grateful to those who critiqued the manuscript and so much happier with how the book came out. So get feedback as soon as you have enough to “reveal” and be ready to revise your floorplan, create new shop drawings, and rebuild your book.

Who’s your project manager?

We described the role of a project manager in construction as “a pro who can make sure the work is progressing smoothly and being done right.” We noted that for book building, filling that role may require you to hire a book coach.

It could be you. If you have the skills and experience to run the project yourself, to know when to hire, how to choose, and are ready to manage the cast of book specialists we discuss in Parts 1 and 2 of The How to Write a Book Book.

Consider the HGTV stars again. “Designer Hilary” has done hundreds of home makeovers. Yet she employs a project manager. 

Although they do some of the physical work themselves, Tarek and Christina employ a general contractor/project manager. Theirs usually visits the house they are considering with them, before they even decide whether to invest, and then runs the renovation when they are not on site.

You might have all, or most of the design, editorial, publishing, and marketing skills you’ll need – in addition to being a writer. Or like me, you might live with or be able to partner with someone who complements your skills and fills in the ones you lack. (I like to think of our Tom and Yvonne book building team as resembling Chip and Joanna!) 

But recognize the danger. Don’t be like a “star” on the show Disaster DIY!

Don't get me wrong: If DIY is your only option, do your book anyway.

Apply all the book building tools and techniques you can master. Find the help you need where you can. Get your book done and get it out there.

But don’t let yours be anything less than it can be, out of any sort of false DIY pride. If you need one, whatever it takes, find a way to hire a project manager (book coach). The investment will be worth it.


The How to Write a Book Book by Yvonne DiVita and Tom Collins - cover thumbnail imageUPDATE: It's ALIVE! For sale here (bulk discounts available) and on Amazon (print and Kindle).

As mentioned above, this post is an excerpt from my "Stories from the Trenches" contribution in The How to Write a Book Book that I'm publishing soon with Yvonne. Truthfully, it's been her book-in-progress for 10+ years and she's been collecting those stories from the likes of Guy Kawasaki, Andrea Learned, Michele Miller, and Dick Richards over that period. I've kind of jumped in at the end to help the book across the finish line! 

Here's the first proof version of the cover:

Please let us know in the comments if you have any questions. And do sign up for Yvonne's newsletter to be among the first we notify about new projects, discount offers, and of course, her weekly wisdom!