Thursday, July 30, 2009

So You Want to Be an Author (Part 1)

I decided to write this two-part series because there are a number of readers who are interested in writing books, and I felt that if I told my story, it might help others pursue their dreams.

In 1982, I wrote the first manuscript for my book, Job Search Strategy for College Grads. I'd never written anything before other than college papers and one other book (it was fiction) that I didn't feel was very good and didn't submit anywhere.

This time I felt I really had something to say, so I sat down and wrote the book. I'd never taken a writing class in college. I majored in history rather than English. But, I knew I had a story to tell. Ultimately, the manuscript was rejected by editors at 20 publishing houses. But, the last editor wrote, "You have a really good voice (writing style), but you're not a career counselor."

I took this to mean that I needed to team up with a career counselor so I called my undergraduate counselor from UCLA, and asked if she wanted to partner with me. She did, and we rewrote the book.

This time I was able to find an agent, but he sent out the manuscript to a number of publishing houses who weren't interested in it, and that was that. I found two other agents. One rejected the manuscript, and the other submitted it to a few publishing houses who rejected it.

So, I decided to sell it myself. I found a list of publishing houses that were the right houses for this property, and wrote a very professional marketing package. I submitted the manuscript and was rejected by 10 or 12 houses before Bob Adams, who had just started his own publishing company in Boston bought it.

The bad news was that Bob was new to publishing and the cover was one of the ugliest I've seen in the history of publishing; I cried when I saw it. Also, Bob had hired a Harvard student to copy edit the manuscript, and when I received it I found 140 errors (which they corrected). Finally, his marketing strategy was to sell the book for $3.95, which meant that my partner and I only made five cents a book, which we split.

The good news was I was a published author when I was 32 years old. Because of that, my partner and I wrote articles for Business Week's Guide to Careers, and we were hired to write two 50-page brochures for the AT&T College Series. We gave job search seminars, and there were lots of other positive opportunities we were able to pursue because we had coauthored this book.

What I learned was this: I was able to write this book because I believed in it. I was able to sell it because I wouldn't take no for an answer.

Here's what I believe: Each year in the United States, there are approximately 50,000 books published. My question to myself was, "Is your book as good as some of those 50,000 books?" The answer was, "Yes." Given that, I decided I wouldn't quit trying until I sold my book, and so I did.

As an aside, Bob Adams went on to great success. Years later he sold his company Adams Media for a small fortune. In 1995, I sold my second book, The Mommy Guide to Contemporary Books, a midsized publishing house in Chicago. In 2001, my third book The Mommy and Daddy Guide to Kindergarten was published by McGraw-Hill. After a long drought, I'm currently working on a new book, which I'll disclose in the months to come.

Question: What do you want to know about writing or publishing?


Paula Joy said...

Wow, that is quite the journey!! Your persistance and perserverance inspires me!!

I do want to write a book. I have started it, but I don't have down a concrete layout even. I also haven't made it a priority, which I need to do if I really am passionate about writing it.

The things that I want to share I am able to share when I preach.

I do want to write, and maybe the time is approaching... :)

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Paula,
I think publishing a book is like overcoming bipolarity; perseverance is the key to success.

Good luck with your book! Now that you're not working full time, it might be a great project for you.

Tomorrow, I'll recommend some books and classes that might help you write your book.


Howard said...

Hi, Susan. Have you written a post on "finding" one's voice as a writer? (You mention here how the publisher said you have a good voice.) I think that would be very interesting to read, yet it seems to be a hard topic to convey. I'd be very curious to get your take!

KJ said...

I am so glad you shared your story about writing with us. I like getting to know more about you.

I think a lot of us feel like we have a story to tell. I know that I do as well. Some season of my life I will tell mine.

Can't wait to hear about the new book.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Howard,
Thanks for your comment.I'm happy to write on the topic if you'll clarify what you mean. Over time--and with a lot of practice--I've become a better writer.

But, in terms of my "voice," that hasn't changed. I've always written personal pieces, and I've maintained a certain style independent of the genre.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear KJ,
I know that you do have a story to tell, and in time I think you'll write it. Blogging is great practice for writing a book. And, as I've said to you before, your blog has certainly evolved over time--in a very nice way.

P.S. Gee, I figured that as much as I write about myself, people might feel they know me a bit "too much."

GirlBlue said...

sometimes you just have to sit and do

Wellness Writer said...

Dear GirlBlue,
Actually, every time you write you have to sit and do it!