Talking ‘Practical Perfection’ with Kelly Exeter

Editor, graphic designer, freelance writer, blogger, productivity ponderer and self-confessed perfectionist Kelly Exeter is also an author – and her latest book has just been released. It’s called Practical Perfection and it’s all about “smart strategies for an excellent life”. We quizzed everyone in the office and we all wanted to have an excellent life, so we went in search of Kelly to ask her some pointy questions…

Hi Kelly, wow – that brick wall really sets off your green top. So, let’s get straight to it – for those who haven’t read your book yet, tell us what it’s about and who it’s for.

“It's for anyone who has ever heard the words ‘You're too hard on yourself' and frequently find themselves burning out, overwhelmed and feeling like the proverbial hamster on a wheel. In my experience, the people who are most likely to find themselves in these places are striver types: people who like to go after big goals, and/or people who set high standards for themselves and are then constantly striving to meet those standards.”

Yes, we are definitely familiar with the hamster wheel. So how did the idea for this book come about?

“Originally the book was going to be called How to Say No. And I went through five separate outlines for that book before realising it was far too huge a topic to cover … and also, everything I knew about saying no came down to one simple strategy (which I do share in Practical Perfection). So … I was a little at sea and the book went through another three outlines and two titles before my great friend Bernadette Jiwa got me on the phone to talk it all out. From that conversation came the title Practical Perfection. I fell in love with it immediately because it neatly summed up six years of writing on my blog A Life Less Frantic. There I share super-practical tips for striver types who are constantly struggling with the overwhelm and burnout that comes from being a self-oriented perfectionist (a concept people can read more about here).

And why did you want to write the book?

“Mainly because everywhere I look I see people, usually women, drowning in overwhelm. And I know from experience that drowning in overwhelm is not a nice way to live life … and it really gets in the way of a person's ability to be their best self. Over the years of writing on my blog, I have developed a framework that allows me to strive as much as like … but without the constant stress, overwhelm and burnout that goes with that. I wanted to share that framework because I know that if it's helped me, it can help others too.”

That’s very generous. So what process did you use to write this book?

“Once I had the title and the framework locked away, the high level structure of the book (Introduction, Section 1: Burnout, Section 2: Overwhelm, Section 3: Hamster on a Wheel, Conclusion) became clear. I then sat down in NaNoWrimo last year and banged out very ugly first drafts for each section. Let me just say, I don't normally write like that. I like to do a bit more planning and have a bit more structure to work to. But I was on a tight deadline to get the book written, edited, proofread and published by March 1 2016. So ugly first draft it was.”

Wow, so from November to February. Tell us how this tight deadline affected things.

“The editing process (which I usually love) was horrific. The Introduction went through 15 drafts. Section One was over 20 drafts including three complete re-writes. Section Two was 15 drafts and two complete re-writes. The Conclusion involved four re-writes. Thank God Section Three was pretty solid and only required a few drafts as I was pretty broken by the time I got there!

“All this re-writing and editing was done in eight weeks and I was completely shattered by the end.”

That’s impressive! Did you use any particular tools to make things easier?

“I have Scrivener and used it for my first book – so I am not sure why I didn't use it for this one. I ended up using Word – not the best tool for version control and putting everything together into one document at the end … but I developed a system that worked for this particular project. I think I will go back to Scrivener for my third book though!”

That’s good to know. So you’ve self-published – why did you decide to do that? What are the benefits of self-publishing?

“I could write a really long answer to this but I will stick to the short version.

“I once heard it said that if you want to make a million dollars, first help a million people. I'm not motivated by money but the goal has always been to make a good supplementary income off my writing one day. So five-ish years ago I looked at the people writing online who were reaching over a million people per year and noted that typically, it had taken six to eight years of writing online for them to achieve that level of success.

“I also noticed that for writers who self-publish (which I knew I wanted to do), it was typically around the publication of their third book that their book sales really took off. So I devised an eight-year, three book plan. I am now five and a half years and two books into that plan.

“I love having this level of control over my own destiny and traditional publishing does not give you control of your own destiny. So that's why I self-publish.”

Right on track! So when you self publish, you have to do a lot of your own marketing. What strategies have you put in place to market your book?

“My main marketing strategy has been to get my books in the hands of as many people as possible. If your book isn't in people's hands, they're not reading it. If they're not reading it, they can't talk about it. If you want your book to really take off, people have to be talking about it.

“With my first book I gave it away (in pdf format) to anyone who expressed the vaguest interest in it. I made it free on Amazon for three days and it was downloaded over 6000 times in that period. With this second book I did an initial print run of 500 and pre-orders paid for that entire print run, which has allowed me to give away over 200 of the paperbacks. I also gave it away in pdf to my mailing list of 2500 plus the 1700 people who did the survey on ‘overwhelm’ I ran as research for the book. Giving away the book has generated a lot of buzz and helped in getting great reviews for the book page on my site. Also asking all my blogger friends for help in spreading the word about the book generated a lot of online buzz at launch time which was awesome.

“For my first book I did a bit of guest blogging for Australian blogs who had similar readerships to mine but this didn't generate much interest (readers of any given blog don't seem to like hearing from another blogger, especially when the reason they're hearing from them is the promotion of a book). The things that generated the most interest were being interviewed on podcasts, and bloggers doing genuine reviews of the book on their blogs. So those are the kinds of opportunities I will be seeking out for Practical Perfection. I will also try to do some guest posts on some big US sites like Copyblogger, Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, Elephant Journal and Mind Body Green and see if that helps with penetrating into the US.”

When you’re not writing, what do you do?

“I am the Editor of FlyingSolo.com.au which is Australia's largest online community for solo and micro businesses. I love that role so much! I also help my husband Ant with the running of our web and graphic design business, Swish Design. I started Swish Design in 2006 and Ant took over running it in 2011. When he took over running it I stepped completely out of it for a couple of years. But I am back in the fray now, mainly responsible for marketing and content development. I'm also a mother of two and responsible for running our household. So my current work set up (I work the 9.30-2.30pm school day: three days a week for Flying Solo and two days for Swish Design) allows me to be more present for our kids, run our household effectively, and also have time for my own blog and book writing. This year I've also had the pleasure of being part of two podcasts on the JackRabbit.fm network: Straight and Curly and Let It Be. I am loving podcasting in a way I never imagined I would (being a writer and all) and I am also loving how podcasting has provided me with another very enjoyable avenue for getting my message out into the world.”

So, what’s next for you? From the look of your eight-year plan, you probably have another book in the works, yes?

“Yup – my next book is going to be all about routines: how they make life better. Beyond the creation of morning routines, there is not a lot out there about routines at the moment. Also, people see routines as very restrictive. I want to change that. I want to make routines cool!”

If anyone can, it’s you Kelly! Thanks for your (precious) time.

Check out Kelly’s latest book Practical Perfection by visiting her website here.

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