Becoming A Published Author
Agony and Ecstasy of Writing a Book
By Evan and Lois Swensen
One Author’s Trip to Publication
Carol V. Weishampel, Ed.D.
Writing is a passion, like an itch, that can’t be ignored. My early writing attempts were personal and secretive. I hid notes, short passages scribbled on yellow legal pads in file drawers, and lost incentive. Publication was foreign, scary, and impossibly out of reach. Then, while teaching art, I became involved with a school writing project that encouraged me to write and illustrate a children’s book. The school district printed my little book in paperback. With a “real” book in hand, I was hooked.
No writer’s groups or conferences were available to me, but that itch to write had to be scratched, so in secret, I began to write what I knew; my family of 12 kids. I had adopted ten of the children as a single parent. Oh, I had stories to tell. Today, that genre is known as a memoir. I thought I was writing excerpts from journals. With many misgivings, I contacted a publisher who, for a fee, edited and published my book, Grandma’s on the Go. Encouraged by seeing a book with my name on the cover, I pulled out old notes for two other nonfiction books, which the same publisher published. None of the books sold well, although I spoke when I could and held signings.
I was nervous about speaking, but enjoyed the challenge. Book signings were fun, too, but I soon learned that I am not a good salesperson. I developed an elevator pitch for each book, and although I could engage a potential buyer in conversation, I could not get most to buy. Low sales didn’t stop me from writing.
Kids grown, retired, rejuvenated, and raring to go, I planned my first RV trip from Texas to Alaska in 2002. Alaska had tugged at my heart from the time I learned that the Alaska Highway had been built in the year of my birth. I would celebrate my 60th birthday by driving the Alcan. This would be a trip of a lifetime. I was denying growing older and gray, but I could not write with my hands on the wheel. I could not jot down ideas that flashed through my head, so I carried a small tape recorder that could be activated while I drove. A camera and computer accompanied me. The recorder and photographs and a collection of picture postcards and brochures enhanced my daily journal. That summer and the following summer, I volunteered at a Christian youth camp in Wasilla and a church in Fairbanks.
The journals from these two trips resulted in Grandma’s Ultimate Road Trip, Texas to Alaska, published in Texas. By 2006, I couldn’t stay away from Alaska any longer and returned to volunteer. This time I carried a digital recorder. As the miles and majestic scenery slipped by, a fiction story began to slip into my consciousness. A road trip to Alaska would be the vehicle. My wonderful memories of Alaskan people and places would enhance the plot. Although recorded in no sequence, my thoughts assembled into scene and sequel, conflict and resolution, romance and mystery. I had a rough outline of Venture in Faith, Texas to Alaska by the return trip. Through my travels, I met another author who had published with Publication Consultants. She, too, was from the Lower 48 and explained that Evan would consider manuscripts with an Alaska theme, even though the author was not an Alaska resident.
I submitted the manuscript and was pleased with the reception I received. Evan asked for my input on the cover design. I sent him my ideas and liked his cover; however, he had a motor home in the design different from the one I described in the story, and I mentioned that a bear was prominent in the plot. Evan quickly tweaked the cover to an RV that matched the story and added a bear that “came out from the bushes.” I was most pleased.
A year later, Publication Consultants published my children’s book, Loon’s Necklace, which I had illustrated. This little book has sold well in Texas, although we do not have loons.
I’ve had book signings in Anchorage and surrounding areas set up by Publication Consultants and shared a booth at the Palmer Fair, the Delta Fair, and the farmers’ market. Unfortunately, promotion time has been limited due to volunteer obligations.
I had one disastrous publishing experience, which I’ll share to warn writers about “editors and predators.” I contracted with a local Texas publisher to edit and publish a novel set in Texas, thinking his hype about local promotion would be an advantage. I paid a fee for editing, printing, and promotion, but the first proof, which took several months, had excessive errors that were not my errors. I was shocked that my name had been misspelled. The cover did not match the plot. I marked pages of errors and returned the proof. Promises of a cleaned-up proof dragged into two years of excuses. I took him to small claims court, but settled in mediation. He would provide a new cover and make all necessary corrections. Many months later, the “new” proof was no improvement over the old. After three years of irritation, I took his company to mediation again and demanded my money back and all rights to my manuscript. I received the rights to the book but no monetary award. Satisfied, knowing this was the best I could do, I had the book published online. I had learned a very costly lesson: make sure the publisher and/or editor I chose was reputable.
Six summer trips by RV to volunteer in the majestic state of Alaska have qualified me as a “six-six.” Six months in Texas. Six months in Alaska. I dream of experiencing a winter holed up in a cozy cabin with a computer and notes for another tale.