How to write a book when you’re retired

By | January 24, 2017

I’m trying to cross off Life Bucket List Item #6 (write a book). Cliché, I know. Here’s my process (so far) if you’re thinking of writing one too.

1. Make a book proposal.

First, I read some stuff on how to write a book proposal. A book proposal is an enormously helpful way to think about the soul of your book. It’s a document consisting of three basic parts, the premise, the market, and the author.

The most useful and best part of that document is the premise. What do you want to say? How can you say it better? In what order do you want to say it? So fun. Spew out some chapter summaries and the gears start turning.

The market part of the book was a bit harder. Who are you talking to? Admitting that I’m talking to myself sounds rather narcissistic. I want to write a book that I would enjoy reading. That’s too vague. I’m talking to…you. Whoever wants to read the crap that I write. Still vague, I know. I’m still thinking about this piece.

Reading to my niece.

The last part of the proposal is the author. Here you brag about yourself and explain why you’re the only one in the world who can write this book.

The premise section of the book proposal sets you up nicely to write the actual book while the market and author parts of the book proposal sets expectations. It forces you to think about commercial value and why you’re writing it and what you can realistically do with it.

Do you want to print out a copy, buy a giant magnet and stick it to the fridge? Bucket List Item complete! Or do you want to send your baby out into the world? Like a real book?

There’s no right or wrong answer, but readers expect a minimal level of quality if you expect them to pay for it. A splashy book cover. Good formatting. No typos. Interesting content. Obviously.

2. Solicit.

If you’ve decided against the fridge magnet and want help making this thing as pretty as possible, you can put bits of your book proposal into an email and blast it out into the world in search of people. Literary agents. Publishers.

Dear Person in the Book-Writing Industry,

I’m writing a book.

My premise is this: Finances are easy. Don’t spend money on crap you personally and specifically don’t need for happiness. The hard part is knowing yourself well enough to know what that might be. It’s the personal part of personal finance that trips most people up. What’s fun for one person might be boring as sin for the dude sitting next to him yawning.

I plan to write it in this colloquial manner to make early retirement sound as accessible as it is.

I paid off six figures of student loan debt and accumulated enough money to retire by 33. In October 2015, I quit my job and now I travel the world, working on various bucket list items. This is my attempt at crossing off item #6 (write a book). Wanna help?

One publisher showed interest, but I still searched for other options to spur some competition. If you’re lucky, you’ll get rejections. If you’re unlucky, you’ll get silence. I got both. The silence is frustrating and the rejection feedback is enlightening and occasionally contradictory. Also, a bit of a bummer.


Somewhere around Yellowstone. I think.

3. Write.

While waiting on email responses, I wrote a first draft of the book. Another super fun step. Use the premise part of your book proposal as a guide and it thwacks together quickly. Like a giant magnet.

4. Consider publishing options.

Eventually, the publisher that initially encouraged me sent an offer. They’d come up with a marketable title and check the footnotes and make decisions about pictures and fonts and such. They would take care of editing it and designing the book cover. The hard stuff.

Of course they would pay for all of this and I’d just stand to the side and nod. Cash my advance check and brag about my book deal. A book deal! It just sounds cool. Prestigious and real.

It’s impressive because the publisher guards a lot of doors. With a real publisher, you might see your book on bookstore shelves or read reviews of your book in the newspaper or magazines. Using a real publisher grants you the possibility of winning a literary award or dawdling on best seller lists. If you use a real publisher, your literary agent can negotiate your book deal.

A book deal!

This would most certainly be the easiest way to cross off this bucket list item. The straightest path to celebratory explosion noises.

Sweden, maybe?

I turned it down.

5. Decide on Self Publishing.

As fun as it is to dream and say “book deal”, I don’t want to care about the things a publisher would want me to care about. Mainly, how many people know that I exist? Make that number higher.

Meh. You probably don’t remember, but about a year ago, I started a short-lived project I called Operation Big Time. I wondered if I could actively grow my blog. I did exactly nothing for it because I hate doing that kind of stuff.

This is why I’m retired. I don’t want an employer telling me what I have to do. I’m not keen to give up my cherished control, no matter how good I am at nodding.

It didn’t hurt that the offered deal kind of stank.

Advance: $1,500

Royalty Rates:

Hardcover: 10% of net receipts
Paperback: 8% of net receipts
Ebook: 5% of net receipts

Stank for me, I mean. It made perfect sense for the publisher. Perhaps 3,000 people know I exist. Of those, maybe 10% will buy this thing. Unless I increase that number, why would the publisher gamble on me? They want to make money. They don’t care about my bucket list.

Fair enough.

Budapest….probably. I need to label my pictures better.

Since I don’t care about money right now, I did contemplate the offer for a few seconds. Going with the sure, but tiny, profit would be the safe path. Without the publisher, I have to pay to make it look professional.

That’s okay. I’ve always encouraged you to spend money on your hobby. Writing is my favorite hobby and I am taking my own advice. Because I give good advice.

6. Read my article on the actual logistics of self publishing.

After I publish it, that is. This article was getting too long.

30 thoughts on “How to write a book when you’re retired

  1. Gerard

    If you’re writing and publishing for personal growth, I have to say dealing with a publisher is actually pretty good… IF they match you up with a decent editor. When I did my first book, my editor was awesome, and I learned a ton about my weaknesses and strengths, and about when/how to rewrite and when/how to stand up for my own perspective.
    If you’re writing because you think your ideas can help people a lot and you want to help as many people as possible, then self-publishing maybe makes more sense… I don’t know because I’ve never done it!

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I agree with the need for a good editor. But with the publisher, if the editor is not good, you lose complete control.

  2. Mary Jennings

    I’ve never commented on anything so here goes-I’m glad you didn’t take the deal. It wasn’t a good deal at all Self-publish. I’ll read it. I’ll buy it for others and rate it on Amazon. I love your blog. I bet your book becomes a best seller. Thanks for sharing like you do. It’s so honest. And with good advice.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I rarely rarely comment on anything (other than my blog) and I know when I do that it means something. Thank you for this.

  3. Daniel

    I for one would buy and read your book. Your cool and brave.
    I am semi-retired in my 50s and live in Canada . If I can sell my house in
    One of this countries most expensive cities and convince my wife to quit her job
    We’re outta here.I need a bucket list.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Who wouldn’t want to live in Canada? I feel like that would be a fertile place for homeowners. Maybe I’m just jealous because you have a good looking and sane leader.

      1. Liz

        I would love to purchase your book! Your posts are always a joy to read so I know your book will be awesome! Good luck 🙂

  4. tt

    I sure hope that’s not your first draft you’re reading to your niece because she’s way more interested in the camera or camera holder!

    File under: know your audience

    Re: the writing- a random comment you made some time ago about having to drag your luggage with you to the ‘ladies’ while traveling alone is the kind of observation that makes you a good & funny read… readers will find you.

  5. EdsWords

    Would buy and read your book also. Stick it out. You have an enjoyable, economic writing style that is humorous in its self-deprecation. How many hours a day do you write? (Roughly). It must be difficult to get into a routine and find regular workspaces while moving around so much.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Thanks for your encouragement. It is very much appreciated. I write at least 12 hours a week, sometimes more. Rarely less.

  6. banyanbat

    Until reading this I had no idea about writing or publishing a book. You gave a nice introduction. I don’t think I can write a book but eventually if I do get there, I guess I can surely attribute it to this post. 🙂

  7. Kraken Fireball

    This is an excellent outline of the publishing world. I think there is a lot of mystery in that area and a lot to learn as a first-time author. I’m glad you put your experience out there. I can’t wait to read about step 6 and above because I’m curious myself.
    Best of luck in your self-publishing efforts. If I can help in any way: proofread, fact check, Rocky style motivational speeches, etc. let me know. I look forward to your book’s release. Your blog/writing has helped me and others navigate our finances and life.

      1. walter

        i just happened to watch PBS’ American Experience about the noted author and environmentalist Rachel L. Carson’s struggle to write her first book. it was most insightful, like this blog post, about the inner workings of writing, editing, and publishing. perhaps a GoFundMe page wouldn’t be out of the question? once you show there is an audience willing to pay for the mere promise of a tome, chock full of genuine TG brain juice, that’s half the battle won isn’t it?

        1. Thriftygal Post author

          Goodness, I wouldn’t do a GoFundMe. The cost of self publishing is low enough to safely go in my hobby budget.

  8. Andrew

    That’s interesting that you didn’t want to promote your blog. I really enjoy it because you make me smile with your whit.

  9. Victoria

    Hey. I enjoyed reading this. More importantly I like to connect people. My buddy runs f64 publishing. It’s a very small company as he does self publishing and a few other items as they arise. If it appeals to you, tell him I sent you. I totally understand if you still want to do it yourself. Just wanted to connect you, in case you want to explore it.

  10. Emily Madapusi Pera

    Firstly, super super awesome that you are writing this book. Keep on writing! I for one will want to read it. Please intersperse fantastic Indian (and other types of) recipes in it! Travel anecdotes are amazing too. It could almost be like a financially independent “Eat Pray Love”. 🙂

  11. Laszlo

    I was going to pass commenting , since this crisply written piece sounded like another awesome thought-experiement by our well-loved Thriftygal. But the previous comment was just too funny. So there, “Eat Pray Love”. Hippocrates prescribed that: ‘Strive to eat so that your food is your medicine’. And if there is food for thought on this blog, then indeed it is the healing, wholesome kind. Thanks!

  12. Karne

    I love that you are working on writing! I’ve been reading the blog, and the Collins book, and am starting investing myself. There is something I still can’t get though–where do you all recommend putting the money you invest in VTSAX? IRA’s have yearly limits, so what other fund did you use, specifically? A certain Vanguard retirement fund? Please help! Thanks!

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      For my 401(k), I used a target retirement fund from Vanguard. For everything else, I just bought straight VTSAX. That’s the name of the fund! You can buy as much as you want of VTSAX, but it’s in a regular taxable account.

      Hope that helps!


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