Becoming A Published Author
Agony and Ecstasy of Writing a Book
By Evan and Lois Swensen
A Shared Journey
Just days after losing our eighth-grade daughter in a sudden, tragic auto-pedestrian accident on her first day of school, I knew beyond any doubt that I would write a book chronicling what happened and how God restored us—in short, our story—and that someone not then revealed to me would publish it. Just days after losing our daughter, I began a grief journal that grew to more than 1,000 pages that first year. Every impression, hope, dream, helpful mentoring or healing tool I came across (or which came to me) went into it. Many early morning hours my fingers clattered away on the stiff, resistant keys of an ancient typewriter, whose noisy clicking kept my patient husband awake in our nearby bedroom. Those were the pre-computer days when correcting typos became it’s own (ongoing!) project—no immediate and automatic keystroke corrections rescued us back then! But conviction and a driving need to get my thoughts and feelings down on paper drove me on.
Little did I know how this emerging journal would provide me the depth and detail I needed to write both PAM, Life beyond Death: Joy beyond Grief—and its sequel, Hope Renewed: Picking Up the Pieces after Loss. While loosely scattered thoughts at first predominated in its early pages as I wrote, my brain amazingly and spontaneously picked up the pace, organizing and correlating details as I went. I was increasingly able to pinpoint and identify practical nuts-and-bolts healing and mentoring helps. At the same time, I was amazed and encouraged to see my healing progress visually taking form on paper; it gave me a progressive overview I wouldn’t otherwise have had, and gave me an exponential uplift emotionally.
Little, too, did I know the preparatory role my journal would play in defining for me what a writer is and why we write, targeting my audience, and ultimately providing both my focus and baseline upon which to structure and organize my books. More than I realized at the time, journaling put all the information I needed in one place, pinpointing key points, experiences, and relevant scriptures. What an invaluable tool!
But much work yet lay ahead. I still had to refine my focus and organize all this information into a coherent manuscript worth publishing and reading. Early brainstorming interviews with friends and family members (some taped, some not) helped me here.
As a then inexperienced writer, accomplishing it was a bigger challenge with PAM; I had first to learn the ropes from the ground up. How to condense so much material, with seemingly endless pursuable options? What material added to or obscured our story? What to include or delete? How to reign in my persistent tendency to write above my readers on a doctoral thesis level? How long should the book be? Should there be a sequel? Or several sequels to cover what a slim 96-page copy of PAM couldn’t? Resolving these issues meant endless—and I mean endless—writes and rewrites, paying relentless attention to grammar, syntax, spelling, typos, and new ones that slipped in with each rewrite, whether mine or someone else’s. This is the first stage where one finds out whether or not one has the necessary drive, determination, and self-discipline to continue.
But all this rewriting had its silver lining. With each new draft, I could see my organization improving, greater clarity of expression emerging—making each following rewrite that much easier and faster to do. Seeing PAM thus take shape through this process exhilarated me, vindicating my perseverance determination.
Well, the day came when I felt my manuscript was ready for the next level: securing a publisher. How would I do that? Although I had no idea, I intended to find out and quickly—I wanted my message to get out and reach as many people as soon as possible.
I began my publisher search by culling the brains of everyone I knew. Two close friends recommended the same publishing house: Publication Consultants, headed by Evan Swensen. Their not knowing each other put them in the valuable category of independent recommendations, motivating me to meet and interview their recommendation.
The day of the interview came. Would my potential publisher understand and appreciate my goal: to share our God-given inspirational journey of comfort and hope with other hurting grievers? Would he consider my manuscript, already the product of numerous rough drafts, publisher-worthy? Would our personalities mesh well enough to work together? Would my book (and its sequel, Hope Renewed) fit in with their interests, goals for his company, style?
The Interview went well. Evan patiently answered my barrage of questions, although he later allowed as how my blitz of questions took the cake. But I had heard some horror stories about other publishers, had a limited amount of money to invest in this project, and knew the wrong publisher could take advantage of my inexperience.
What followed next was a series of meetings with Evan that covered not only publication costs and book pricing, but such critical details as what kind and thickness of paper stock, choosing readable fonts, photos (black and white, or color?). We also looked ahead to marketing strategies for getting PAM into stores, churches, libraries, schools alongside Evan’s own many, and growing number of public events. This would help me network and expand my outreach down the road.
The whole process fascinated me, and I appreciated Evan’s ample opportunities to participate, i.e., choosing the title and book cover. Many publishing houses arbitrarily make those decisions.
And of course, one book often leads to another; realizing so much was left unsaid in PAM, I wrote and published a second book alluded to earlier: Hope Renewed: Picking Up the Pieces after Loss. Building on my experience with PAM, I supplemented my journal with interviews with my customers. After my frequent in-depth conversations with them, I’d dash to my table and note down highlights, earmarking them for future use before I forgot them.
Hope Renewed progressed much faster due to several factors: I was now an experienced published author with my supportive publisher, so I didn’t have to shop for a publisher, itself often a time-consuming process. Plus, I wasn’t multitasking with other projects (while writing PAM, I had been simultaneously absorbed in a five-subdivision effort to obtain a neighborhood park just two blocks from our home.).
Additionally, I had baseline contacts in place due to earlier networking efforts. These contacts, in turn, provided me with second-, third-, (and more) generation contacts. As a result, I not only enjoyed networking, but it also personalized my book-writing efforts for both the other parties and me. In short, I made long-lasting friendships in the industry.
Right after PAM came out, I plunged into book signings, some arranged by, and participated in with Publication Consultants, others arranged by me. This approach expanded my outreach to the public, and I discovered how much I enjoy book signings. I learn as much from the customers as they do from me. They share their own interesting stories and insights and are the best opportunity to meet, greet, and share with the public. I’m unconventional in that I circulate among shoppers entering and leaving the store (versus sitting at my table), seeking to connect with and engage them. Even though our economy has made sales more challenging, you never know who will remember your book(s) and purchase later. At any rate, it’s the industrious, committed, and enthusiastic author who sells books.
Other, at the time seemingly unrelated events can also rebound to one’s favor in the marketing arena, extending interest and introducing new people to one’s story. In our case, periodic coverage by the Anchorage Daily News on the progress of the emerging Pamela Joy Lowry Memorial Park (and beyond) has contributed to a tangible, enduring, and continuing neighborhood interest in and commitment to our story. Local residents have helped the Department of Parks and Recreation maintain and refurbish the park over the years. Visitors have spoken of “going to Pamela Joy” as if visiting the essence of her presence,” and Dave Stroh (KTVA Channel 11) did a touching 25th-anniversary feature about it and our daughter.
What was my highlight experience in writing PAM? And Hope Renewed, too, for that matter? Holding PAM’s first published, tangible copy in my hands, ecstatic gratitude combined with surrealistic disbelief surged through me. With God’s help, we had made it! I felt touched beyond words. Now we could go out and positively touch other lives, by first chronicling our family’s spiritual journey in PAM, then passing on the torch of comfort and help to other hurting grievers (and their comforters) in Hope Renewed, whose practical everyday healing helps cover all situations. In short, we could now reach whoever needs and wants help and encouragement, regardless of age or circumstance. Thus, I felt a solid sense of accomplishment upon completing and getting Hope Renewed published.
Finding Publication Consultants, and their subsequent willingness to publish both books, I truly feel was a God thing. Especially since their company has continued its exponential growth by taking advantage of every available technological advance and pursuing every available opportunity when not creating their own—they’re not the largest publisher in Alaska for nothing. They know the necessity for, and benefits of, hard work and persistence—and see and appreciate it in others. And if there are questions, even repeats, this family-owned company steps up with the answers, keeping with their stated goal of helping people publish the book each person has within.