Becoming A Published Author
Agony and Ecstasy of Writing a Book
By Evan and Lois Swensen
I’m Going to Write a Book
I’ve always been involved in writing. If it wasn’t a diary, it was contract and grant work or my journals. I love to read and find authors interesting and amusing. I married a successful writer, author, and poet—we’ve been together 52 years and have critiqued hundreds of books together. One evening after reading a book about an Alaska rural village that lacked a factual basis, I said, “I’m going to write a book.” Dennis, my partner, reminded me that many steps and tasks went beyond mere writing. I ignored him and went into the office and searched my journals and a file titled Humor.
Various and wondrous positions as a traveling early-education teacher, trainer, and administrator had armed me with a plethora of rural Alaska experiences. It was exciting to think I would finally sit down and begin to put them on paper. If I recall correctly, I wrote two essays that evening—I didn’t go to bed until 2:30 a.m. The next day I looked at them and thought I’d better not go on until someone looked at what I had in mind.
I was so fortunate Publication Consultants, a highly recognized Alaska publication business had published my spouse’s book Hunts and Home Fires, and they were helpful throughout the entire process. Evan Swensen, owner of the company, took a look at what I had written, and we agreed I had stumbled on a book and should begin writing in earnest. I’m so pleased I selected Evan and Lois. They made me feel special throughout my entire experience.
First, I outlined the book and divided it into three parts. My Life as a Rural Traveler, Growing Up in a Rural Community, and finally, A Trainer’s Clips, Notes, and Anecdotes—episodes that I couldn’t write about but that people could probably read between the lines.
Next, I thought I’d better write about myself. I had a teacher once who said if your autobiography is more than 300 words and you’re not a renowned educator or making a university application, keep it short. I did. But the picture next to the section about me in my book says it all!
About this time, I realized I needed a sizeable three-ring binder to organize things for me because I shared an office with Dennis, who was also writing poetry and was neat and tidy. By the time I purchased the binder, I had the title of my book, Cold Climate Clips, and I had gone through hundreds of pictures and was saddened by the fact that I had taken so few.
During this time, Evan told me to write—that the pictures and the cover and the autobiography all came later. He was so patient with me. I emailed Evan often, and he was always prompt in his responses—I’m an early riser, and I found he responded quickly.
Okay, I’d write. I had stories, true stories about cheese stored in attics, drunken trainees being sent home from training, favorites that should have been fired, but when it came right down to it, I didn’t want to write an exposé on my experiences. The positive and the rewarding encounters I had with the rural folks far outweighed any negative memories, and I knew in my heart it would be a better book. So I crossed out some of the stories in the outline.
I’ve never been to an authors’ seminar, but I suspect I’d love it. As soon as I write something, I want to read it to someone—anyone! Fortunately, I had an audience while writing Cold Climate Clips (CCC). Our daughter and son-in-law Stipe had just returned to Alaska and temporarily lived with us. Dennis would listen and comment once in a while, and Stipe would always say it was good. Denise was my best critic and would change the grammar.
Unfortunately, she didn’t remove the exclamation marks. When Marthy Johnson, my editor, saw all of them, she reprimanded me and reminded me they should only be used with passionate statements. I jokingly responded that I was very passionate about my writing. I don’t recall that she laughed. Anyway, I read every essay to my family, and I believe I even emailed some I especially liked to Evan.
Writers, of course, have different styles and prefer a variety of environments. For example, my daughter is a writer, and she uses earplugs and can write just about anywhere as long as it isn’t too bright. Dennis likes quiet and writes late at night when everyone is asleep. I don’t care about noise, time, or what is happening—I write. I’m sure I sometimes annoyed the whole family; while immersed in CCC, I forgot about everything. Every once in a while I’d holler out “35,000 words!” when I reached a new goal.
My outline was helpful—I titled my essays and stories before writing them, and the titles kept me focused. I wish now I had listed more titles. I think the book would have been longer. That is my only disappointment other than the cover. I believe the book would have sold more had it not had an outhouse on the front ….
Something else that sells is a book with lots of pictures. I finally did decide I had enough pictures. And some were excellent pictures that depicted the work that I did and the people I spent a career working with. I also took it upon myself to ask a former colleague to use a few of his pictures and gave him more than adequate credit— that was a good move and improved the book’s overall look. I divided all the pictures by chapter and put them in the binder along with the original stories. I captioned each of them and gave credit to each person who loaned me a photo—this is very important. They should also be listed on the acknowledgment page, but that’s an author’s choice.
After I finished writing and Denise tried to clean it up, it went to Marthy Johnson, the editor. We met with Marthy. Denise did the final, and off it went to Publication Consultants.
Don’t think it happened that smoothly—there were a few bumps along the way. People went on vacation. I was sick, and Marthy was backed up with loads of work!
Then comes the time you write the cover description. It sells the book at a glance. I loved writing this part. When I wrote grants, I used to write short descriptions of projects and give overviews of staff qualifications to meet the criteria for the grant, so this went well for me.
The section I had difficulty with was the acknowledgments. I had so much help and so many friends who encouraged me and was so appreciative of Evan Swensen at Publication Consultants for offering me the plan as a way to publish my book.
Finally, the day came when we sat down and put the pictures on the printed page. I was finished. Evan said I had one more chance to look at it before it went to the printer.
He would have to send it to me because we were off to our cabin in Seldovia. It came, and there were a few changes—off it went, and when we returned to Anchorage for supplies, I picked up my new book. Until you publish, you’ll never know the feeling you have in your stomach and head when you first hold your book. It’s amazing!
Next, we scheduled book signings. We served candies and juice at one because of the size of the facility. We had an open buffet at the second because it was large and accommodated many folks, and we didn’t serve anything at the third because it was so crowded. Book signings are a good idea! It doesn’t sell if you don’t get out and sell your book.
I was excited throughout every step of building my book. The creative processes were remarkable, and the mechanics were positive learning experiences made possible by the people who guided and helped me through the process.