In 2013, I wrote my first book and entered the wild word of publishing.
Seven years and four books later, authoring remains an ever-exploratory journey. Sending a work out into this world can take myriad routes – each with its own terrain, obstacles and buried treasures.
My adventure began by publishing my first novel Hope Rising through a traditional publishing company. I entered the process like a kid on Christmas Eve – all the wonder of what might be waiting under the tree brimming up inside me. I understood the privilege of the moment; that only four percent of submitted manuscripts were accepted. I was now part of a small group of budding authors whose names would grace the cover of a book, backed by the power of a publisher. I dreamed big dreams.
A diligent worker, I took on all the challenges of being an unknown author. I promoted myself. I built a web site. I accepted speaking engagements. I arranged book signings. I showed up at library talks, sometimes with only three people in the room. I attended author trainings, wrote blogs, and engaged social media.
I also learned quickly that if you aren’t Dr. Phil or Oprah Winfrey, it is unlikely you will make a big name for yourself as a new author. Most of my profits went to the publisher. I made marginal gains. Sometimes, I lost money.
The same company published my second book Chuck and Spark Explore the Park – a fully illustrated children’s story. Soon after, my publisher was shut down and my two precious books went out of print. All that was left was the inventory on my shelf at home. A flurry of calls came from other publishers looking to profit by charging me to re-publish my book. I felt deflated.
Focusing my attention on my primary profession as a non-profit fundraiser, I moved forward. After presenting at a national conference, I was selected to write an industry book Five Strategies to Increase Annual Fund Revenue. This time, I signed with a very reputable publishing company and experienced the joys of working with seasoned professionals. I gained access to the company’s president who mentored me, and to other authors in the group who encouraged and co-promoted one another. It was a joyous experience. Some years later, that publisher also closed his doors.
No matter the process you engage, as authors, we have to toil. Writing a book is an arduous task. Promoting one is another beast entirely. Seven years in, and authoring has offered me a business card, so to speak. It has opened myriad doors for paid speaking and consulting I never would have accessed without those credentials after my name.
This year, I ventured into a new corridor. I self-published for the first time. My fourth book – a novella titled Waking Up Grateful: Turning a Painful Past into a Purposeful Present - is, by far, my favorite work. I wanted to experience self-publishing as part of my author journey. It has exceeded expectations. I am learning new tools, rebuilding my web site, learning to create promotional videos, and repurposing blogs.
I understand today that making a lot of money or garnering a “big name” is of least importance to me. I am a writer. I am compelled to write. Authoring has taken so many turns. Each has grown me as a person. Just as the painter is called, time and again, to the canvas – I am called to write. How I send that finished piece into the world is up to me. I encourage anyone who shares this passion to take the leap. Despite the hardships, it IS a rewarding journey.
Find Pamela at www.BeASeedPlanter.com or on LinkedIn under Pamela Say, BA, MBA, CFRE. Visit her Amazon author page at:
1. Quiet mornings
Nothing feels quite as good to me or as fulfilling and energizing as waking up before anyone else in the house and reveling in the pure peacefulness of the place. No voices. No television. Even the dog sleeps which is nice because I cannot ignore those adorable milk-chocolatey brown eyes calling me away to hug, play, feed or walk him. This is my only moment alone in the home I love to feel the energy, let the silence wrap itself around me like a blanket, and give in to the promptings of my mind. My laptop screen glows. Hot coffee steams beside me. Papers clutter across the table. My thoughts pour out. Honestly, it is like therapy.
2. Dedicated time to think
This world pulls our attention away constantly. It’s designed to do so. Flashing lights. Honking horns. Buy this. Try that. Listen to me. Look here. Every once in a while it is empowering to symbolically yell “STOP” and embrace the silence to think - think about life and family and the universe and God and our calling and whatever else comes to mind. My husband is a carpenter and I’m inspired when I see him furiously sketching out drawings of remodels; when he’s lost in his own mind. I think we would all be better people if we just took some regular time to think.
3. Grappling with big ideas
Big ideas. Big life-changing ideas. Transformational ideas. The kind that evolve you as a person. Those are my favorite! When the riots started in Baltimore and everyone was freaking out, it was a perfect opportunity to not react but rather grapple with big ideas. While people were making all kinds of startlingly inappropriate comments on Facebook and sweeping generalizations on both sides of the issue, I stopped to grapple. I listened and thought and thought and thought. What came out of it? Understanding. Empathy. Compassion. I had conversations with white people, black people, and brown people and each one was astoundingly awesome. Discovering ways to bring healing, closeness, peace, and real solutions can be the result of grappling with big ideas. My reward came when an old friend and I of difference races had a long and beautiful, respectful, eye opening conversation in which we both walked away feeling like we had grown love in the world.
4. Seeing the results of hard work
We need to know our efforts have results. I’m a writer. I get to see the results immediately. When I put pen to paper, I create something. Writing is my art form, my expression, my creative outlet. Some see those results through building or gardening or launching a company or simply paying the bills. Results feel good. They show us our power and our value.
5. Sending ideas into the world
As a journalism student at St. Bonaventure University, one of my all-time favorite classes was opinion or editorial writing with Dr. Denny Wilkins. The editorial page, I learned, is like a forum for community conversations. It is a place where people can exercise public discourse or dialogue. How exciting to take a well-developed idea and send it out like a paper ship on a pond and see if it withstands the test or wanes in the waves; to see if it makes it back to shore intact or disappears. Then, we take those results and rework our ship and try again!
6. Prompting great conversations
When a great and strong idea is born and sent out into the world, it inevitably draws others in and starts a ripple of conversation that can lead to real social change or civic engagement. All good things start with a word. If you’re a person of the Christian persuasion you know that the best human on earth was called “the word.” If you are not a person of faith, you know words can be like a physical presence that exists, because you have felt them as if they reached right out and touched you. Just because they are invisible doesn’t mean they don’t have intense and powerful implications on everything around them. Responsible people know the power of words and prompt goodness out of great conversation.
7. Building a long-term legacy
For me, my writing is like a lifetime of work stored up in volumes like encyclopedias showcasing my transitions and capturing my story to leave behind. I do not want my life to be meaningless. I often talk about my theory that this earth (as well as every individual on it) contains an inner scale – a simple line that measures from good to evil or love to hate. Every day we chose, individually and collectively, where we fall on that scale. My writing, my life’s work, and your life’s work (whatever that might be) should leave a legacy that tips the scales toward love and toward good.
8. Standing for something: reading still matters!
I grew up a block and a half from the library. I can still smell it if I close my eyes. Crisp pages. Tall shelves. Perfect silence. The library was my escape and my oasis. Not everyone loves to read in general, but everyone loves a story that connects with their heart and soul. My daughter hates reading. Her ADHD makes it very difficult. But boy does she love to read Manga! Some people have the same experience by watching. A great movie can be like reading a book. Reading matters. It’s a beautiful skill and it is our history; our proof as a people that we were here on this earth. I love contributing to the world through my writing.
9. Working out of my gifting
For me, it’s writing. For you, it may be something else; but everyone on earth should know what their unique gifts and abilities are and work out of those instead of toiling from a place of weakness. When we work out of our gifting, we can accomplish the GREAT things – the things that make people stand in awe with their mouths hanging open. We can accomplish things that bring a tear to the eye and a stirring in the heart when we operate out of our gifting.
10. Drawing on family history
God bless my mother and father. They are thinkers. They taught me to think for myself. When I write, I am calling on their very spirits because I would not be able to do what I do without their influence. I’ll never forget sitting for hours listening to “The Great Pretender” by the Platters or Fat’s Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” with my dad in the living room. I’ll never forget watching the Battle of Britain with him. I will forever remember seeing my mom stand at the kitchen counter with flour all over her tattered Better Homes and Gardens cookbook making the most delicious apple pie. They were learners and my writing is a continuation of them. Any work can either be a continuation of family or the beginning of your own legacy, which you will leave behind for those looking to you for guidance and direction.
You know me. I was that kid. The one who hid in the back of the closet with pen, paper, and a flashlight. The one who stepped through the threshold at the public library, closed her eyes, and inhaled. The one who had serious cravings for the pen; cravings that made her fingers ache.
It's no surprise, when I published my first novel, I broke down in tears. It validated all those hours pouring my heart out on paper, studying journalism, giving poetry readings, and editing the student literary magazine. Even though I never got a job with Rolling Stone Magazine like I said I would, this was enough. I had arrived.
So, what happened after my first book was published? Why doesn't everyone know my name? The truth is, thousands of books are signed by publishing companies every year. Yet, few authors become household names. Here are 3 practices for new and aspiring authors I learned along the way.
1. Position Yourself For Work BEFORE Your Release Date
My biggest mistake with Hope Rising was not preparing myself with a personal brand and marketing plan before my release date. New authors, even those backed by the publisher's marketing team, need to take a grass roots approach to promotion and sales. My publisher reached out to the media and set up a few book signings, but in the long run, I generate most of my leads. That means I had to start a business to sell my books and collect sales tax. I needed a business name and brand, a web site, and a pitch. There is momentum surrounding your book's release date, so all of these things should be setup in advance. My third book is coming out in 2016 and I'm working hard NOW to be certain I am ready.
2. Network. Network. Network.
If you are a recluse and don't have the funds to hire a full-time publicist, you will find it difficult to sell books. I just returned from a two-day authors and editors symposium in Nashville. A couple dozen authors gathered to share their struggles and their best ideas. Everyone agreed, connections lead to opportunity. We help one another. Nearly every book talk, keynote, or workshop I've secured, came out of a relationship. They didn't come from an ad I placed. That means sometimes I talk for free. I go to yet another lunch meeting. I respond to all the emails in my inbox, even the seemingly unimportant ones. It means setting up robust LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages and staying active on social media. It means being present in the community.
3. Be a Life-long Learner.
We writers may be experts in our field, but we still have lots to learn. Just last week, I listened to an incredible woman named Anne Freedman teach a session on public speaking. I was blown away! After taking Anne's workshop, I understood why some of my speeches brought the audience to their feet and others put them to sleep. Even for experts, learning should be a life-long commitment. Be sure to set aside time to visit with other writers and small business owners, to attend conferences and workshops, and to scan the bookstore and web for topics of relevance. The more we grow as professionals, the more ready we will be when opportunity arises.
Pamela Witter is an author, speaker, professional fundraiser, and founder of Seed Planters. Visit her today at www.BeASeedPlanter.com.
Pamela Say is a published author, fundraiser, and life-long student of leadership. Browse Pam's blog entries for possible conference session or keynote topics. Pam customizes training opportunities for her clients.
Read Pamela's internationally published articles at Orato.World:
Father's death leads son to advocate for firefighter cancer awareness
Father offers forgiveness to five-year-old son's killer
Kenyan journalist forcibly outed, launches Bold Network Africa
Hope Virgo fought for her life, campaigns for eating disorder support
Paxton Smith reflects on graduation speech swap, starting collge, and book deal
From racism to one race: the Jane Elliott story