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Lessons Learned

How to Get from Writer to Published Author

Just like the tee shows, I’m a little dingy, a little wrinkled and worn, but still the lead author and CEO of my own business (in fact, three businesses but who’s counting?). I can tell you from my experience that having a business is hard; writing is the easiest part for me. In this course, I and my colleagues at Potpourri Publishing plan, not on making you wrinkled, but getting you through some shortcuts that worked to help us so you won’t need to make the same errors we did. Follow on to learn lessons you might not learn except in the university of hard knocks where things are a lot rockier and more painful and expensive than needed. You will learn all the shortcuts, the ways to make it easier and you’ll learn to avoid some of the errors we’ve made over the last dozen years of being in this profession of writing.

Why is this book different?  Excellent Question!

Everyone has a different slant, a different rationale for doing what they do; they all come from the cumulative life experiences of that author. My experiences are not someone else’s; I may come from a simpler background than most or a more difficult one. The thing I have learned over my life is that if you help someone else, you help yourself. You will learn as much from them as they do from you. The world is too cut-throat as it is; we need to do what we can to make it easier on those following us. Possibly being of a Native American bent, with an eye towards the seven generations before and back and present, I look at the road differently. 

At any rate, this book shows how to avoid my errors, how to find free ways to market, free ways to publish, and not be convinced to buy things you don’t need to start. You would be surprised how many folks there are out there selling to you; everything from marketers to people who will take you on a ride for courses costing upwards of fifty to a thousand dollars; most things you can learn without that much cost by just listening to those who have done this. Now, if you have unlimited funds, you might find it’s great to have someone else do it all for you; you can even hire a ghostwriter to write your ideas into a book. (James Patterson does a great job, he, Dolly Parton, Bill Clinton-they all write bestsellers together. I have no idea what he charges; I do not think he’d come cheap. He’s worth every penny of it.) I personally am not one of those types. I do know that if you apply yourself, each book you write will get better. Each one gets easier to do. Writing becomes more rewarding.

If I had a quarter for every time a person said to me something like:

“I want to be an author.” When I ask them what they’ve written, they don’t even keep a daily journal. They think there is a magic formula that I can perhaps pour into an ear, juggle their head, and out pops a book. There are no magic screwdrivers; writing, authoring, is hard work. However, if you are one of those who love to write, who are always thinking up stories, who dream in plots, you might have an author in there somewhere. I hope so; we need more good authors. One of my favorite memes (I did not write this) Looks like this:

“Many People have a book in them; but it takes a special kind of freak to leave the Land of Laziness, cross the Plains of Procrastination, find the blade of No One Made You Do This, and use it to cut your chest open and yank that book out.” Gabineo Iglesias

And not wanting to discourage you, but it is sometimes that hard. It doesn’t have to be so hard.. It can be. However, you are the one who makes the choice to do it; to get paper and pen, or tablet or notebook, or laptop, phone or whatever, to say “From now on, every day at 5 when I get home from my day job I am putting thoughts to paper.” You make that resolution, you set up for it and you start carrying around 3 x 5 cards, or a memo taker of some kind to jot down ideas during the day (and sometimes when you wake up at night) that you add to a pile on your desk and use to jog out ideas. You have to write: it’s in your soul. By day, you may be the mild-mannered factory worker, gentle-hearted nurse, a hard-driving lawyer who writes briefs, or a really patient teacher, but at night, the crime detective author wants to escape and get down to it. You need to let that beast loose. I was a mom, a young one, with four kids homeschooling them all when I taught them about book-writing, authors, and such, and in 1990, we wrote a book together.

The first book my kids and I did together, way back when they were being homeschooled, was about how the Bible was printed. It was to teach them how to write. It wasn’t meant for sale but was published. That was way back in 1990. I still get requests for copies and it’s been out of print for years.

Back when I was a young mother at home with my 4 children, I remember distinctly starting enthusiastically writing articles for magazines. I remember selling a couple as a high school kid and getting fifty bucks apiece for them. Dan and I knew I needed to stay home with our kids, and we had just gotten our first computer-you do remember the Apple 11c? I figured earning a few extra bucks here and there, I could do while the kids were doing their homework would help balance the family budget.

Our dog was the easy one to train…he was a Newfoundland called Champion Admiral Jack of the Kennels of St. James. He used to pull the kids to the library in that wagon.

Writing at home with kids was harder than I imagined. The first few rejections hurt a bit, but I’m a stubborn person. I kept writing. I finally found some magazines that would buy my little stories and publish them-I still remember the glow of getting author’s copies and my first check for a couple of hundred bucks. I started a notebook, keeping copies of each published story. I still have one of them somewhere in a closet. In little over two years, I’d been published over 300 times. It made a nice side income for our family. That’s when it happened.

I remember being asked to compile some of my stories into a book that would be published. Unknown to me, by the time I had completed the book and sent it in, the publishing company’s acquisitions person had changed and the next person was horribly brutal about the book idea the other person had proposed. He wanted the company to go in a different direction and I was not in that direction. This is 28 years ago and I can still remember part of that refusal letter. I determined in my heart if ever I was in a position to critique or speak to folk about their writing, I would be much gentler than he was with me. He upset me so much that I didn’t even write for a year or so, and it was only because the magazine editor wrote me a personal email, followed by a phone call, followed by another email that I started back up again, writing articles for their magazine and others. I admit I had lost much enthusiasm. Thanks to the acquisitions person, I now considered myself a hack, not a real author who wrote what was in her heart. I wrote to earn money alone and while that’s not bad, I had lost my confidence in my gift. I flung myself into teaching to earn funds for the family. I taught some creative writing classes for our local vocational school and some seminars on writing to homeschool teens-a most critical audience. I wrote articles for magazines, struggling to not think of them as piecework from a factory. I ended up over the years writing over 500 published, paid-for articles. I read a lot of books, and I studied what others wrote but I had the nagging idea it was all a fake and I honestly was as bad as that critical acquisitions editor who saw me as wasting his time with the past guy’s ideas of what their company needed.

But my husband lost his job when his company was sold to another company, and we both went back to college to regroup. I graduated and I got a job in a social services agency. Between a 45-hour workweek, raising four children, and going to study for my Masters’s all the writing I did was on dissertations. I’d get ideas for books, write them down on a page or a card, and put them in a file to take up later. Later turned out to be 17 years when I finally retired from that job to open my own therapy office. I was semi-retired, self-employed, my kids had fledged and gone out on their own and I had some time. As I was cleaning out that agency desk, I ran across the file. I took it to my home office with me and started going through it; so many good ideas, so many research articles, and so much accumulation of 17 years of yearning to be a “for real” author. I started writing my first book from scratch, or perhaps I should say, from the file while I waited for my clients to arrive at my now small private mental health therapy office, and on my lunch hour and anywhere I could sandwich in time to work on it. That first book took me three months to write and was way too long. I got it down. I designed the cover. I sent it out to the world. And it flopped horribly. I didn’t know how to market. I went back into research mode. I knew I had the bare bones of a good book. However, like Mozart, who according to critics had too many notes in his scores, I had too many words, all of them precious, in the book. It was horribly long. As I recall, just under 500 pages. I didn’t know how to polish it or find a cover designer.

I knew it was going to be a series back in 2014, the year of my semi-retirement; did not know that after it was re-edited, shortened and a new cover added, it would grow to 13 titles in the series and be my first best seller.
It looks like this now. However, had I decided to listen to that guy’s remarks and not believe in me, it would never have happened.

I found an editor: we cut nearly 200 pages out of the book! And that is the first lesson: simply start writing down all the ideas that come into your head and flesh them out later, some will become books, some won’t, but all are worth the simple act of writing them down.  It’s practice, it helps.  Start it today. Set up a file online, or get a notebook you can add sheets to, spend some time each day just writing; start with something you know, like what happened today. Move onto someone you wish you knew, who you could meet, and sketch out plot ideas. The important thing is to make it a regular, daily habit to write. If you have the idea already for a book, then start making notes about it. Where’s the action, who is it happening to? If you want to do non-fiction, start writing about what you know. Organize it, and give it a table of contents, a rough one, to keep the topic in a logical progression. No one is going to see these but you, so be as wild and flamboyant as you like because the important thing is to write it down.

And if you want to drop me a comment to let me know how you’re doing, do it! You can ask questions, you can send me some writing, a few paragraphs to look at, I don’t mind. The object of these lessons is to help others just starting out (or maybe more) to polish and get their book done. May the Good Lord bless you as you start using your gift.

Smokey and I want to hear from you! Shoot me a message if you like these lessons! I plan on putting one on each week for the next 24 weeks, and if you follow them, you will have your book written, have it advertised, and have a lot more confidence in yourself to boot.