Becoming A Published Author
Agony and Ecstasy of Writing a Book
By Evan and Lois Swensen
Little Old Ladies Came in Off the Street
My publication career did not begin with Evan Swensen but started some 50 years before we ever met. At that time, I was a professional photographer and budding writer, selling articles to magazines such as The Alaska Sportsman for the remarkable fees of ½ cents a word plus $5 for one-time use of an 8-by-10 black and glossy white photograph! I had my share of rejection slips, but I also sold my packages of text and photos regularly. Frankly, I’m sure it was my photography that tipped the scales toward sales, and I urge every writer to provide good photo coverage to accompany their prose. Either learn to do your own photography (easier today with digital cameras than in yesteryears) or find other sources for illustrations.
During the 1960s, I was a regular contributor to the Alaska Sportsman, continuing even with their fee schedule. At the time of the 1964 earthquake, the Sportsman publisher requested an article and photos covering the big event. He would “hold the presses” until it arrived! I dropped everything else to produce this feature story. Alas, that was before the days of electronic technology permitting instant transfers of text and photos . . . and my article did not arrive soon enough. Other material was used in their earthquake edition. The presses were not stopped long enough! And so the document sat in my files until I met Jan Boylan, some 40 years later.
My career as an author and photographer continued, and ultimately my work appeared in more than 50 different publications in the United States and Europe. I never contemplated writing a book.
In the early 1980s, I taught photography at UCLA, first being asked to fill in for another instructor, whose schedule unexpectedly changed. That class was successful, and I agreed to continue teaching for several years. During that time, I was requested by Amphoto Publications to write one of their planned “Amphoto Guide” series books. Believe me, a rare occurrence! In the usual chain of events, a writer asks for publication of his book, but is not given a contract to produce one. I wrote a book for beginning photographers that I could use as a text for my classes. This was easy to write because the subject was one I knew well. Unfortunately, a tough editor who was the published author of several photography books himself insisted on changes. Like most writers, I resisted having to change my perfect prose. After the book was published, I agreed that he was right and I was wrong! After all these years, I still resent it when an editor makes changes. I’ve had enough experience now not to be stubborn, and submit a little easier. The outcome was a book entitled Amphoto Guide to SLR Photography, featuring my photos and my students’ photos, including several 4-H members I had mentored in our local 4-H group. I was pleased with the book, although it never hit the best-seller list! However, it did work well as a text.
Back in Alaska in 2003, I read an item by Janet Boylan in the Anchorage Senior Center newsletter requesting personal earthquake stories from members to be made into some publication. Jan was motivated to raise money for the center and was convinced that a collection of personal earthquake experiences might fill the bill. I had never met Jan but called her to ask if my long-ago-filed copy might be helpful.
We met and talked. Jan’s original idea had been of a ring-bound, house-produced book or booklet. We talked some more. I agreed to work with her to produce a book, but only if we could create one substance worthy of such a historical event. She was happy to head in that direction. We started to collect stories. My unpublished article written for the Alaska Sportsman became the lead story in our book. If it had been published 40 years before, this book, in its present form, would never have been written. Fate does act kindly. Once in a while.
During the year we worked. Collecting, refining, and becoming more and more excited with the results until we finally decided we had enough for a book and it was time to find a publisher. Where in Anchorage, Alaska, do you find a publisher? You start with the Yellow Pages, of course. Neither of us knew anything about any of those listed, so we started at the top of the list and made appointments to consult.
The first few local interviews were pretty dismal. No interest. Costly quotes. No encouragement. “Leave your name and number, and we’ll get back to you!” But, of course, we never heard from these outfits. We knew we had something good but did no one else recognize the potential? Some very discouraging appointments. Working our way down the list, we reached Publication Consultants, located on some strange-sounding street we’d never heard of. A city map helped to find it, and we headed for our appointment, manuscript, and photos in hand to see Evan Swensen.
And what a difference in our reception! Evan and Lois acted as if they were happy to see us. Since Evan had lived through the 1964 earthquake in Anchorage and had his own story to tell (he was manager of the local Montgomery Ward store at the time) he could see the merit in our collection of stories. This experience was everything the others were not!
We explained that the purpose of this book was two-fold: one, to preserve some Alaska history heretofore not written, and two, to make money for the Senior Center. Neither Jan nor I have ever charged one dime for our efforts on this project.
At that first meeting, Evan described to us his methods possible for publishing a book, gave us suggestions as to what we needed to add to our manuscript, helped us make decisions as to how many books to order for this first printing, and generally supported, enthusiastically, our mission. I must say, of all the publishers I’ve known, Evan is by far the easiest I’ve ever worked with. And always with good humor! This man must have a bad day now and then, but I’ve never seen it.
Receiving this first shipment of books was absolutely thrilling. We had accomplished our first goal and were overjoyed with it. Now we needed to move forward with the second. Evan helped us before printing and continues to assist sales in setting up book signings and writer’s conferences for his other authors and us. In addition, pep talks and helpful information are a part of the tasty taco dinners he and Lois host in their home for all of us.
Our book signings have been successful. I’ll never forget Evan’s comments during the first signing following publication “…These two little old ladies came in off the street, not knowing what they were doing … and they produced a best seller!” Our book has sold well. We’re now into the sixth printing. Sales have slowed a bit, but as long as we can be out there signing books, we’ll continue to sell. Books don’t necessarily sell books—people sell books!
Evan and Lois continue to assist writers in becoming published authors. Gracious, honest, helpful, encouraging, competent, and always with a smile and great good humor. I treasure them as friends.
No, my first publication was not with Evan Swensen, but now at 82 years of age, I can proudly say that The Day Trees Bent to the Ground is the one I’m most proud of. The Senior Center has, to date, benefited by more than $40,000 in royalties alone.
My advice, if you’ve written a book, if you’re writing a book, or if you’re thinking about writing a book, go first to Publication Consultants. You’ll be glad you did!