By day, Mike Kowis, Esq., is a mild-mannered tax attorney at a Fortune 500 company. By night, he’s an adjunct professor of Business Law and Corporate Tax for one of the largest community colleges in Texas. He’s also the author of the award-winning debut book, Engaging College Students: A Fun and Edgy Guide for Professors.
Mike discovered that the process of self-publishing was just as challenging as teaching college students. So he took careful notes on each step and released a second award-winning book, 14 Steps to Self-Publishing a Book. It’s a handy guide for authors that paves the way to self-publishing on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It also contains cost comparisons and 10 surprising lessons learned.
Here, Mike fills us in on one of those surprising lessons.
Writing my first book was nothing short of a full marathon. By that, I mean the process takes a serious commitment of time and effort to reach the finish line. If you’ve written a book, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t yet done so, then buckle up, Buttercup! It can be a long and emotional journey, but well worth it.
I kicked off my first book project with a public announcement on Facebook that gave me one year to write and publish it. I’ll admit the one-year time frame that I set for this goal was completely arbitrary. But I needed the pressure of a deadline to motivate me to stay on track and finish. Looking back, 365 days was too ambitious given that I also had a full-time legal career, part-time teaching gig, and a family to raise. Not to mention that I knew absolutely nothing about writing books.
Fast forward to one year later, and I was embarrassed to admit to my friends and family that I’d only written 57 pages. Most of the reactions I received were positive and encouraging. As expected, I took some friendly criticism for missing my initial deadline. But a few folks seemed almost happy to see me fail and were convinced I was wasting my time.
Luckily, I’m the type of person who loves to prove someone wrong. I used this criticism to push myself forward. I got up, wiped the egg off my face and repeated to myself, “I got this. No problem.”
At the end of year two, I found myself with 80 pages and perhaps the worst case of writer’s block known to mankind. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t think of a single word to add to my manuscript. Not. One. Word.
As a tax attorney, I write daily and have never experienced writer’s block. So I was completely shocked and frustrated when this happened. I also felt depressed because it was the first time in my life that I doubted my own ability to complete a goal. Until that point, I had accomplished pretty much everything I had ever set my sights on from both a professional and a personal level. I remember thinking, how can this be happening to me?
I turned to my muse and editor, Geoff Smith, for help. Geoff worked his magic and gave me fresh ideas to explore. Soon, I was off and running again.
By the end of year three, things were finally looking up with 113 pages completed. But then I came down with another bout of writer’s block that stopped me in my tracks. Once again, I turned to Geoff for developmental edits and then headed toward the finish line.
My four-year journey finally ended when I published the book on October 21, 2016. Wow… what a day! I felt just like a proud Papa when I finally got to hold my creation in my hands for the first time.
Obviously, not everyone’s first book journey is as long and arduous as mine. However, an aspiring author would be wise to head this advice: Be aware that book writing requires a significant investment of time. Also, the journey can take an emotional toll if you’re not mentally prepared for possible set-backs and delays.
The good news? The journey is totally worth the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to create the book you have always dreamed of.
Ella Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedInor Facebook, or check out the websitefor more information.
Irish author Bram Stoker once said, “We learn from failure, not from success!” But Doug and Sissy Pitcher have learned from both. They’re happily married – a success story to be sure – but they’ve also experienced the failure of divorce in previous marriages.
The couple is sharing their collective wisdom in their new release, Not Just Another Marriage Book: Explode Your Relationship. It’s a little book with seven big, Biblical ideas on how to create a relationship that is fulfilling and lasting. And it’s making its debut alongside Pitcher Ministries, the couple’s new ministry in support of other couples in marriage.
We sat down with Doug and Sissy to find out more about their marriage and ministry – and where they got the crazy idea to write a book together.
Before you became a success story together, you each experienced the heartache of divorce. Tell us a little about your individual pasts and how you met.
Doug: I was raised in a Lutheran church in Oregon, and then I was born again in my junior year of college back in 1984. But I ended up divorced after 11 years of marriage with two children.
Sissy: I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. I had no church upbringing. My mom was Baptist and dad was Catholic, but we didn’t attend either. It wasn’t until 1988 that I accepted Christ. I’ve been divorced twice, blessed with four children.
Doug: We actually met on Match.com, which was a big surprise to both of us. Neither of us were on there for very long. We emailed back and forth for a couple of months and had some phone conversations before meeting face-to-face for the first time.
Sissy: We both knew we didn’t want another divorce. Our eyes were definitely wide open at this point. Early in our relationship, we read and discussed books together about relationships, like His Needs, Her Needs; Love and Respect; Five Love Languages. We spent most of our time communicating with one another and being intentional about our dating process. We dated for about 1 ½ years, and we’ve been married now for 7 ½ years. We’re blessed with a big family of six grown children, four son-in-laws and five beautiful grandchildren.
Doug: We were dating intentionally, although we had no clue at the time that this is what we were doing. As we look back, it’s obvious that God knew what He was doing all along. He’s called us into a ministry that’s focused on the front-end of relationships – which is exactly what we did together. We know how important it is to put in the necessary time before heading to the altar.
How is God using your individual pasts for good today in your marriage and in your shared calling to help other relationships?
Sissy: We’ve both suffered everything that divorce entails. But it’s because of these difficulties that we’re able to be so passionate about doing homework on the front-end of a dating relationship. We have compassion for couples dealing with what we call “damage control” in their marriages, many times because the work wasn’t executed on the front-end. Often, we see things while dating and ignore them or think they’ll get better or act as if they’re not a big deal. But these things often end up being the areas that challenge us the most in our marriages. By the time we get to “damage control,” we’ve often already hurt each other so deeply. The conflicts have become so big that many relationships can’t survive.
Doug: So God has taken our past experiences, combined them with His grace, and called us to reach out to other couples. We’re educating and training them before marriage. It’s truly Romans 8:28 in action. What was meant to destroy each of us, God is using to reach other couples. It’s about being intentional in dating and continuing this intentionality throughout our marriages. It is our passion that couples heading to the altar know that God is the Designer of marriage. He has everything we need to be successful and fulfilled in our marriages. It’s all in His manual, the Bible. Training is the first step – and then applying what we learn is just as important.
How did you get the idea to write a book?
Doug: A little over a year ago, we were enrolled in an online Boot Camp with Kingdom Builders Academy. That’s where God started to bring clarity to us regarding the vision of Pitcher Ministries. We knew we were to reach out to hurting and disappointed couples. During the Boot Camp, we were given a free coaching call. This call proved to be very pivotal for us. The coach said we needed to write a book. We just looked at each other and started laughing, trying not to let the coach hear us. We’d never been writers. We wrote love letters and cards to each other, but that’s it!
Sissy: After composing ourselves, Doug said, “Well, if we write a book, we don’t want it to be just another marriage book!” And the coach said, “That is your title right there!” We kind of looked at each other and thought, not sure about that. After the call, we started talking about what he said, praying that God would show us what to do. We came up with what we thought would be the title and what the book was to be about. It started to flow quickly. The next day, the first chapter was written. We both were in shock. Again, we do not write!
Doug: From that point on, the Holy Spirit truly led us. The book was completed in three months. Funny thing about the title though. The one we came up with had copyright issues. As we were sharing our difficulties with a dear friend and strong woman of God, Barbara Long, she said, “I don’t think that’s supposed to be your title.” We were a bit confused and, of course, were praying as to what to do. The next day, she called and said, “I just want to let you know that God spoke to me last night and said that you two already have a title from a while back.” Well, that did it. Not Just Another Marriage Book was to be our title!
So why isn’t this “just another” marriage book?
Sissy: Because it’s not our opinion on marriage. It’s marriage design principles straight from the original Designer of marriage: God! Think about it this way. If we drive a Lexus, we’re not going to the Ford dealer with a problem. We’re going to the original designer
and manufacturer of our vehicle. Marriage is no different. The Word of God is the “owner’s manual” on marriage. God gave us marriage as a beautiful gift, and He gave us all the instructions we need to let this beautiful gift bless us.
Doug: Unfortunately, we often try to get help in our relationships from all the wrong sources. If we’re not going to God’s Word, we’re not receiving the best remedy for our issues. If we don’t investigate and educate ourselves with the proper instructions, we won’t see our marriages flourish to their true capabilities.
What is the significance of your cover design?
Sissy: Every element has something to do with the message of the book. The man and woman’s hands creating a heart represents love. We might stop and add that only God’s “agape” love will ignite our marriages to the fullest. And inside the heart of love is the cross. As a man and a woman fall in love, they individually need their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is a vertical relationship. It is our individual vertical relationships that will help us become the spouses that God designed us to be. And as a couple, we need a relationship with each other, which is a horizontal relationship. When you intersect the vertical relationship with Christ with the horizontal relationship with the couple, you have the cross.
Doug: If either spouse fails to have that vertical relationship, then all they have is a horizontal relationship. That’s a flat line – you’re dead in your relationship. But when we enter our marriages putting God in the center and allowing His design to flow through the relationship, then our marriages are EXPLODED to eternity! This doesn’t mean we won’t go through difficulties. But it does mean we will have the “owner’s manual” to guide us through those difficulties.
You’ve said that this message is as relevant to you as it is to the reader. Would you share a time in which you applied your learning to your own relationship?
Doug: I’ve learned a lot about the concept of “pursuing.” I’m constantly pursuing a deeper relationship with Christ so that I can be the man that I need to continue to pursue Sissy. I know that as a man I am not able to pursue my wife without the help of Christ. My relationship with Christ is vital to my relationship with Sissy. I haven’t stopped pursuing God, and I still pursue Sissy today. I like to surprise her. So I may just write in her calendar, “Date with Doug,” and tell her she is busy on that day. Of course, she has let me know that I need to make sure she is always dressed properly for wherever we are going! We cannot stop the pursuit and expect our relationships to explode. I pursued Sissy passionately when we dated, and I’m still passionate about pursuing her!
Sissy: I’ve practiced allowing the Holy Spirit to operate, or “control,” my mannerisms. Like the time Doug and I endured 10 ½ months of unemployment without warning right after purchasing a home. Through the Holy Spirit, God gave me the ability to keep Doug encouraged – whether in periods of lots of interviews or in periods of great silence. When I could tell he was feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, I’d suggest that we take a bike ride. He’d get out of the house for a bit and come back feeling more optimistic. We honestly never once disagreed during this long period of time. We were on the same page . . . Not because we’re so great, but because the Holy Spirit was in control! Circumstances like these can either make or break a couple, and it definitely drew us closer to God and each other! Because we are rooted deeply in our faith, God was our sustaining power.
How did you work together as co-authors?
Sissy: Co-authoring this book actually came very easy. We divided up chapters and went at it. The challenge was trying to blend our writing styles into “one.”
Doug: Which is really apropos considering that is what we are doing in our marriages as well “two becoming one.” This is what our ministry is all about, helping a man and a woman become one as they walk together the many years ahead. Just as in marriage, we wanted our individual styles to remain individual, yet complement one another and flow.
What has been the most surprising part of the publishing process?
Doug: Honestly, we were surprised at how easy it was to select a publisher. We didn’t expect to go with the first one we spoke with, which was Stellar Communications Houston. However, it was quite clear that God had all the details worked out for us in advance! We felt we were divinely placed with the publisher, Ella, when she expressed having a heart for our ministry, a kindred spirit if you will. God had already cleared the pathway of publishers and placed us with the one He knew had more than great skills and professionalism – one that had “heart” involvement. When you think of even that, God is always looking at our hearts! He is truly into the details!
Sissy: After our initial call, we were very clear that Ella was to be our publisher! It’s rewarding to be able to work with a fellow servant of the Kingdom. And she adds a personal touch. We haven’t felt distanced in this process. There were a couple of times during the publishing process that she recalled certain things we had written. This was very encouraging to us! It confirmed for us that we did indeed hear from God on this! It was also rewarding to actually see the first draft of the book sent to us. It was a bit surreal that yes, this book is about to be published! Very humbling!
What do you hope readers gain from reading your book?
Doug: The most important idea we want readers to take from this book is that marriage is a blessing. It’s not the “death sentence” as so many refer to today. Marriage is a
beautiful gift from God, and He designed marriage to be a beautiful representation of Jesus coming back for His Bride!
Sissy: We want couples to realize that anything and everything we need to learn or know about our relationships are in God’s manual, the Bible! We want couples to know it is NEVER too late to EXPLODE their relationships for eternity. We want couples to experience God’s love individually so they can in turn extend that type of love to their spouses. And we want couples to know there is no “Plan B” in marriage. God is ready, willing and quite capable of helping each of us if we will allow Him to help us implement His design into our relationships.
Now that the book is released, what’s next for your ministry?
Doug: We’re solely focused on relationships. Our vision is to educate and train couples on the front-end of their relationships. We’re passionate about pointing couples in the direction of dating intentionally. That means no longer dating with our eyes closed, but wide open!
Sissy: As our ministry grows, our vision is to become an added resource for churches, an extension of their ministries. We’ll go wherever the doors are open to reach out to couples, whether they’re engaged or married. We are all about increasing the Kingdom. You might say we are looking for whomever we can grab and take with us! We’re simply walking by faith and in obedience to God’s calling. We do have another book that is to be written as well. As far as the timing, only God knows!
Doug and Sissy, thank you for spreading God’s wisdom. We pray that your ministry explodes along with the relationships around you!
Ella Ritchie (pictured right) is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedInor Facebook, or check out the websitefor more information.
Doug and Sissy Pitcher (pictured left) are blessed by God’s grace with a beautiful union of holy matrimony, even after both experiencing the shame and disappointment of divorce. Together, they share God’s design with other couples through their ministry, Pitcher Ministries. The Pitchers are licensed ministers through The Freedom Center Church in Missouri City, Texas, and are certified “Marriage on the Rock” instructors through Jimmy Evans of Marriage Today. Schedule a workshop or speaking engagement at 281-945-5323 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also “Like” their Facebook page at Pitcher Ministries Inc.
Earlier this year, we announced some thrilling news to Houston banker Bill Herrington. His memoir about Hurricane Katrina, Contraflow, won the prestigious 2017 Independent Publisher bronze for Best Regional Nonfiction (South U.S.).
His book was one of more than 5,000 entries that were submitted to the annual Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs), the oldest, most established book awards in operation. For 21 years, the IPPYs have been honoring the year’s best independently published titles from around the world.
Not bad for a first-time author.
We wanted to know what made Contraflowstand out as a winner. So we asked the IPPY awards director, Jim Barnes, to share a few bits of insight with us.
But before we get to what he said . . .
Why does it matter?
The recognition of an award is a huge morale boost for you and your team. You’ll see renewed enthusiasm because your hard work is confirmed as credible. It didn’t hurt that we were whisked away to New York City to celebrate at the IPPY awards ceremony. And it’s rewarding for the other businesses and individuals who lent their names and support for your project.
An award also increases the visibility of your marketing campaign. You’ll have photo opportunities and will receive book seals that can added to your covers. You may be mentioned in a new wave of websites, press releases, and international articles to new audiences.
Ultimately, all of this means that your message may reach new people and lead to increased book sales.
Let’s get back to Jim’s insight.
What is considered?
Jim said IPPY book submissions are judged by longtime publishing experts. They narrow their selections based on the following six criteria, and then a committee selects the winners.
Use of Language
These criteria underscore the importance of selecting a publishing team that will pay attention to every detail of your book – from writing and editing to design. “Books are judged by their covers,” Jim said, “so make sure your book looks really good. Your book title and cover should tell exactly what it’s about and what readers should expect.”
That’s why the author of Contraflow collaborated extensively on the book cover. He wanted to nail the exact colors, images, and words that would convey his message.
Jim continued, “Opening lines should grab the reader and suggest great things ahead. Careful editing and proofreading are vital, especially in the early pages.” That’s why we opened the book with a line that is sure to stir curiosity:
“Right away, it was obvious that something was wrong.”
What is not considered?
Jim said there is one aspect that doesn’t tip the scales.
“We judge the book and only the book,” he said. “So any marketing material accompanying an entered book is discarded. We don’t pay any attention to reviews or publicity.”
Two things that spell doom
There are two red flags for a book – and they both have to do with being too vague. Jim said, “One thing I hear that spells doom for a book is, ‘You have to read about halfway into my book to really get it.’”
Jim said another red flag is when an author says, “My book is really hard to classify and kind of falls between a few different categories.” It’s important to thoughtfully consider your genre before you even start writing – and again when it’s time to enter it for an award.
There are more than 80 subject categories in the IPPYs, from economics to science fiction to cookbooks and coffee table books. Since Contraflowis part autobiographical and part regional, we consulted with a marketing guru, David Ivester of Author Guide, on the best category. David advised that we enter the Regional category because it’s not as broad as the Autobiography category. (We’re glad we listened.)
So start with the end in mind. As you write your book, be clear on what you are writing and who you are writing it for. Partner with a professional team that will craft the best book for you. And then dream big!
Ella Ritchie (pictured left) is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedInor Facebook, or check out the websitefor more information.
Jim Barnes (pictured right) is the awards director of the Independent Publisher Book Awards, which bring increased recognition to the thousands of exemplary independent, university, and self-published titles published each year.
Pat Stone’s life changed in 2006. That’s when her son, Alex, took his own life at just nineteen years old. In the wake of questions and grief, Pat discovered that he’d left behind a trunk of writings, poetry and drawings that revealed his inner thoughts.
Now, more than 10 years later, Pat has compiled selections from Alex’s volume of work in This Is Me: The Life and Writings of a Young Poet. It is a thoughtful gallery of photographs, school assignments, notes and poetry that retraces his steps from age seven to the night he died. In it, friends and family reminisce about the profound impact of a much-loved son, brother, nephew, uncle, friend, and—above all—free spirit.
Pat sat down with us on what would have been Alex’s 30th birthday to share what it was like to create a tribute to her son.
It’s been more than 10 years since Alex died. Why did you decide to tackle this project this year?
My motivation for this project was part mystical and part guilt.
The mystical part happened when I was spending a week in the mountains of New Mexico. I felt pulled to the fact that I was the only one who would dig through the trunk of Alex’s writings. I asked myself, “Are these writings and drawings just things that a mother will read?”
The guilty part came from knowing that it was up to me to compile Alex’s work, even if only for his family and friends.
Alex left a trunk full of journals of his writings and drawings. How did you decide what to include in the manuscript?
The first cut was made by Mark Dossert, an editor for a Houston writing center called Writespace. Mark edited a three-ring binder full of typed poems down to a version that was readable by someone other than Alex’s mother. He gave me confidence in knowing that many of Alex’s writings are useful to a wider audience than just his family and friends.
Then my publisher, Ella Ritchie, went through the edits and pulled some of them to the book. We decided to include Alex’s early years, so I was happy to include one piece of writing in particular. It’s framed in his room and says, “My dog has onle three legis.” I like this one because when Alex was born, we had two Weimaraners and two cats. So it was no surprise that his first composition would include our Weimaraner, Lucy.
We see Alex’s work mature over time, from his elementary years to college years. We laughed at his young, 7-year-old threat to give a “nukkle sam winch” to anyone who messes with his mom. And we appreciated many of his later, darker pieces, especially “The Black Sky” and “Rest.” Do you have a favorite piece?
My favorite piece is “Be More Aware.” In it, he says, “Practice on strangers. How to be more compassionate to people we don’t know. . . . Think outside yourself.”
It hangs in the bathroom where it gets seen frequently. It shows the innate goodness and compassion he had for people who are easy to judge and discount.
You did more than compile Alex’s work. You also took the time to round up reflections from family and friends. Why was this important to you?
The reflections from Alex’s friends and teachers add to my understanding of my son. I’m not the only one that feels this way. . . . When one of his friends read Alex’s manuscript, she commented that it explained some things about Alex that she didn’t know.
I have to admit that the timing of asking for reflections couldn’t have been worse. I asked during the holiday season. I cajoled and set deadlines to try to publish his book by Alex’s 30th birthday.
But I wasn’t thinking of the emotions that I was asking them to relive. It was my project at that time. I finally realized how selfish that was and extended the deadlines to “whenever and whatever.” After the printing deadline passed his 30th birthday, I relaxed. I decided to wait even longer to gather reflections from more people.
I’m so glad I waited. Their reflections have become the heart of Alex’s book. To me, gaining understanding may be the bigger purpose of This Is Me.
The content isn’t the only thing that is meaningful. Tell us about the book cover.
Every element represents Alex. The title is a line from one of his poems. It’s bold and direct, like he was. Then we narrowed the cover image to several that we liked, and we went with one in which his face is half-hidden, like Alex was. He was private. The geometric design in the background is from one of his drawings.
The title is fitting for his work. In fact, much of Alex’s writings are dark, which made this project an emotional undertaking for everyone involved, especially for you. How did you cope?
Yes, there were many days that frustration and emotion took over.
I felt frustration over trying to make sense out of random writings and the timing of writings . . . and the never far-away emotions of what I could have done differently. The obvious pain he shows in the writings from 1997 to 2000 were the hardest to read, especially the apology note he wrote the night he died. It was also difficult to look at the photograph of him smoking a cigarette.
Even though 10 years have passed, these things bring back some old feelings like anger and disappointment. But I put them in the book because I wanted to be accurate. This was the real Alex.
Ultimately, I just kept going back to the last note Alex wrote to me: “Mom, I love you. Your son, Alex. Please be strong.”
It does take strength to publish, particularly a project like yours. Do you have any advice for others who are considering publishing a tribute to a family member or friend?
I don’t feel like I have any expertise to share. The universe just aligned for me. I had the good fortune to reconnect with Elizabeth White-Olson, the founder of WriteSpace, who opened her heart and home to me when I arrived with a 3” binder full of typed pages. She introduced me to Mark Dossert, an editor at Writespace. And then when I asked what the next step was, she showed me the Stellar Communications Houston website and said, “This one is not the least expensive route to take, but you and Alex would be in good hands.” It’s like I fell into a vat of chocolate.
Was anything about the book publishing process surprising to you?
The most surprising thing about this process has been the details. I now appreciate little things like front matter and back matter, the size of a book, the font design, and whether or not to indent text. All of these details make an enormous difference in how a book looks and how appealing it is to read.
What has been the most difficult thing and the most rewarding thing about the process of publishing Alex’s work?
The only difficult part was when I realized I had deleted the first table of contents, which was organized chronologically. The editor suggested that we rearrange the manuscript so that the tone of the work flows from light to dark. But later we reconsidered the organization and decided to return to a chronological arrangement, so I had to recreate the timeline.
The most rewarding part has been my relationship with Ella. She made me feel like Alex’s book was her only project. She was always calm, promptly responding to every question and making a point of letting me talk first. She also asked for my feedback, pointing out things that were options or personal choices with a sense that she truly valued what I thought. She understood the feelings that accompany each piece of writing as only a mother could. I’ll miss our emails and visits on the phone.
What do you hope readers will take away from This Is Me?
I hope readers who didn’t know Alex will find a kinship with some of his work. Some of his ideas are universal, and some of the topics he wrote about 10 to 12 years ago are relevant today. I hope for a greater understanding of kids labeled “troubled” or “lazy” and try to see the possibility of goodness they may be hiding.
For Alex’s family and friends, I hope This Is Me will expand their understanding of him by seeing different perspectives shown by the other reflections. His work was not widely known by even his closest friends and family. He’s grown in some people’s minds from being thought of as a “smart aleck” to “smart Alex.” For that shift in perspective, this book has served its purpose.
Thank you, Pat, for your dedication and candor throughout this interview and the entire publishing process. You’ve created quite a tribute to Alex!
Ella Ritchie (left) is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedInor Facebook, or check out the websitefor more information.
Pat Stone (right) is the compiler of This Is Me: The Life and Writings of a Young Poet, on behalf of her son, Alex Ware. Contact her at email@example.com.
Let me begin by saying that this isn’t a political article. The truth is I’m not a very political person.
But I am passionate about communication. That’s why I make it a habit to observe the techniques of the Presidents of the United States. No other position faces the monumental challenge of rallying the support of an entire nation. So when they do something that works, I pay attention. You might remember my 2016 post about Obama’s speechwriter that examined his use of emotion in stirring people to action.
The title lets readers know right away this contract is for “the American voter.” Identify your audience to help you stick to content that matters most to them – and to become instantly relevant to your ideal clients.
Be clear on your unique value proposition.
Honesty, accountability, and change within 100 days – this is the overarching promise that Trump makes to American voters. Be upfront with your audience on where you’re heading, how you’ll get there, and what results they can expect. What statement are you willing to boldly promise in writing to your clients?
Organize material into bite-sized portions.
Subheadings and bulleted lists provide an instant face lift to content. That’s because they take the burden off the reader by serving as a mini-directory of topics. Now your readers can skim and jump to their favorite parts rather than sludge through a wall of words. By grouping your material, you’re also adding white space and eye appeal. Just be sure your readers understand your intent even when they skip parts of your material.
Make it personal.
Trump’s signature and a space that invites “your” signature adds a personal touch indicating that this contract is between the President and you, a single voter.
Keep it simple.
Because the material is so direct and weighty, the formatting is kept simple. The content is outlined in two pages using just a few colors, one image, a simple page border, and a website to learn more.
As you write and design your business materials, keep these five tips in mind for the most effective business communication!
Ella Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedInor Facebook, or check out the websitefor more information.
Have you ever read the Choose Your Own Adventure book series? They give the reader the delightful power to direct characters through plot twists to their favorite ending.
Unfortunately, we’ve been hearing from too many authors who consider books anything but a great adventure. When it comes to publishing, they don’t feel any sense of control over their own book. Some are staring uncertainly at the options while others are feeling disappointed and disillusioned with their publisher.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way.
We’ve seen the guts and dedication it takes to pour your story onto paper. It’s time to reclaim your sense of adventure and power in publishing by bringing some clarity to your next step: Choosing your publisher.
Let’s take a look at three publishing options. We’ll give you a few pros and cons of each path – as well as the two questions that should guide your decision.
This is the traditional way that authors were published before self-publishing came along. In traditional publishing, you take the time to research the publishers that may be interested in your manuscript, send them a query letter, and wait to find out if they will represent your book. An interested publisher will purchase the rights to your manuscript.
Pros: There are big benefits. The publishing house often bears all or most expenses. Also, you and your book have instant credibility as well as an instant audience for broader reach.
Cons: Waiting to hear back from publishing houses can be very time-consuming since it can sometimes take more than six months. And because many people are vying for a chance with them, the odds of being selected are competitive. Also, the traditional publisher owns the rights, which means they have the control of your book. This impacts the amount of royalties you receive from sales and means that they have the final say on every aspect of the book. They may also have additional stipulations, such as required attendance at book conferences.
At the other end of the spectrum is self-publishing. With this option, you own the rights to your book and are responsible for every aspect of the project. This path is available to any author who wants to be the publisher of his own book.
Pros: With the development of Printing on Demand (POD), publishing is now easily accessible to any author. You no longer have to wait on traditional publishing houses to see your book in print. The main benefit of this path is retaining control of your book. You call the shots on what it says, what it looks like, and when it is published.
Cons: The downside to making every decision on your own is that you may not be making the best decisions. This path can also feel pretty confusing and overwhelming at times because of the hundreds of big and small decisions and research that come with creating a book on your own. Some online platforms don’t allow you to speak directly with your editor or formatter, which means things can get lost in translation. Unfortunately, a tell-tale sign of a self-published book is when quality is sacrificed for the sake of the budget. For this reason, readers can often spot a “do it yourself” book and won’t take the writing seriously. This takes away from your credibility and can hurt your marketing efforts.
This third option is a blend of traditional publishing and self-publishing. Assisted publishers bridge the gap between the two options so that self-published authors have some of the benefits of being represented by a publishing house. This describes our own company model, so we’ll tell you the pros and cons of our approach. When you’re contacting assisted publishers, be sure to ask a lot of questions because each company does things a little differently.
Pros: This option is for authors who are ready to begin the process toward publishing a manuscript – and who want collaborative guidance on how to do it. An assisted publisher is an advocate who helps you determine the best choices for your book, providing honest feedback and other considerations. It’s an intimate process with a lot of back-and-forth on ideas and details. You retain control of the process and the book while relying on experts for quality work. This collaboration impacts your marketing efforts because the public sees that you’re more than a “one-man band” – your book cover and marketing materials show that you’re backed by a publishing company.
Cons: Engaging a project manager throughout the process makes this option more costly than self-publishing on your own. Also, an assisted publisher may share in book earnings, so be sure you’re comfortable with company policies. And while some assisted publishers have an audience, you’re still essentially a self-published author and not as likely to achieve the same reach as in traditional publishing.
Two Important Questions
As you consider your publishing options, it’s time for some self-reflection. Ask yourself these two questions:
▪ What are my short-term goals? That is, what do I want to happen within the first year that the book is published?
▪ What are my long-term goals? What do I envision for my book 10 years from now?
Now prioritize your list of goals to find out which you value most. For example, some authors value wide audiences and sales while others value a legacy they can pass to their children. Still others want to publish as inexpensively as possible. When you’re honest with yourself, your goals will point you to the type of publisher that is right for you.
Now that you have some clarity on the paths to publishing, you can take your next step with confidence. Choose your own adventure!
Ella Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedInor Facebook, or check out the website for more information.
The staff at River Oaks Bookstore knows about book signings. Since their doors opened in Houston 45 years ago, the booksellers have handled more than 3,000 book events for authors. That’s why their feedback on Bill Herrington’s book event last week mattered.
Their unanimous response? “It was one of the best events we’ve had,” they all said. In fact, book sales tripled their expectations.
It’s no wonder. Nearly 60 friends, family, and colleagues had streamed into the cozy shop to celebrate Contraflow, Herrington’s memoir about the leaders who provided hope to New Orleanians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The evening was a culmination of years dedicated to shaping his eyewitness experience into a compelling tale.
So how can you ensure the same positive experience for your own book signing event? We teamed up with the author to share some pointers.
Tip #1: Align yourself with a publisher who is an advocate for you.
An advocate will provide the accountability and encouragement to see your project to the end. “From my endorsements to my book event,” said Bill, “Ella has pushed me to go further than I thought possible. I was initially hesitant to host an event, but my philosophy became, ‘Go big or go home.’”
Tip #2: Define your goals and expectations.
Book events typically result in few sales, so don’t make the mistake of measuring your success solely by numbers. Set realistic expectations by shaping the event around your original goals. What were your reasons for writing the book in the first place? Whether you sell more or less books than you hope, this is an opportunity to bring these goals to life beyond what was accomplished in the pages of your book.
“In my case, my primary goals were to share my story with family and friends and to honor Houston leaders,” said Bill. “These two goals were even more important to me than making sales. So we based every detail of my book event on these two goals.”
Tip #3: Plan your format.
Decide whether you prefer a casual signing or a more structured format that designates a time to share a formal reading and in-depth thoughts. Be sure to mention the plan in your invitations so guests know what to expect.
Bill said, “I decided that my two-hour signing would be a come-and-go event on a weeknight. I liked that people stopped by at different times after work to grab a book, say hello, and mingle. However, there were some downsides, like the fact that some were pressed for time and had to leave before my speech that was given midway through the evening. So you really have to think about what you want.”
Tip #4: Choose a fitting location.
Consider a venue that maximizes your ability to accomplish your goals as well as your guests’ ability to attend. A bookstore is a solid pick because it has ample space and staff experience to accommodate a book event – and it’s usually in a recognizable location. Most stores keep a portion of the book sales in exchange for handling logistics like tables and chairs, book purchases, parking, and refreshments.
River Oaks Bookstore in Houston, Texas
For Bill’s signing, we chose River Oaks Bookstore because it provides a charming atmosphere in the heart of Houston. Bill said, “I visited the shop before the event to introduce myself, ask questions, and scope out the space. I like that a small shop can make even a small event feel well attended. If you prefer to not share a percentage of book sales with a store, another idea is to host your event at a spacious home.”
Tip #5: Arrive early to arrange your materials.
Bring plenty of books, a display stand, and several fine-tipped black Sharpies for easy signing. Set out business cards and a stack of press releases that can be left with the bookstore as promotional materials. Name tags and Sharpies are useful if you’re welcoming people from different social and business circles. Finally, keep a water bottle on hand to keep your throat clear.
Bill said, “Colleagues sent flowers, which turned out to be a nice touch as a table centerpiece.”
If you want to get creative, you can also display photographs, a slideshow, or other materials related to your book. Some authors choose to have their book cover, author portrait, book title, and name enlarged on a standing poster board. This might be worthwhile if you plan to host future signings.
Tip #6: Plan your message.
When it comes to your written message, choose the page of the book on which you’ll sign, which might differ in your paperback and hardcover formats. Be ready to ask for names and spellings, try to personalize the message, and sign your name legibly. If you don’t know a guest well enough to write a personalized message, consider a signature phrase, such as “Much appreciation” or “In gratitude.”
The author signs a copy of Contraflow for Elizabeth White-Olsen, founder of Houston writing center WriteSpace
This is also a great time to express verbal thanks for your endorsers, family, and community members who contributed in some way. Guests attend these events because they want a personal connection with you as the author, so think about how you can take this deeper than what they can read in the book on their own. Consider telling about how you made your choices on content or cover design, or explain your emotional journey in making your book. Aim to keep it short – no more than 15 minutes. Bill said, “You’ve got to practice and rehearse what you’re going to say. The only thing I wish I’d had was a podium to glance down and remember everything I wanted to say and everyone I wanted to recognize.”
Tip #7: Recruit others.
Before the event, ask friends and family to mention the book event online to drum up curiosity and potential sales. Then ask them to arrive a little early at the event to help welcome guests and make them feel comfortable. Designate a friend or two to take photographs at the event. Afterwards, offer to sign some copies to leave at the bookstore as an incentive for them to sell.
Most importantly, pay attention to your guest list. “I didn’t send an Evite to everyone I know,” said Bill. “I invited people whom I trusted would bring a positive, supportive energy for an enjoyable evening.”
Bill offered a few more tips on inviting guests. “You need to spread the word yourself. The only people who will come to your event are those you bring,” he said. “So invite the centers of influence. Invite people from your circles far and wide. Invite them even if they already own your book because they may want their book signed or may want to buy more as gifts. Like any party, you’ll want to invite more than you think will come because about 20 percent won’t show up. And don’t be afraid to send a reminder – people have good intentions but might forget because they’re so busy.”
Tip #8: Make it fun and interesting.
Showcase another guest of honor or a product that you think would interest your guests. Because Bill’s book was about paying tribute to city leaders, he invited former Houston mayor Bill White to share a few words about his role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Not only was Mr. White relevant to the evening – he added credibility to the book.
We also coordinated with Mr. White to display his own book, America’s Fiscal Constitution,along with a bowl to collect names for one complimentary copy. This added an element of fun for guests but also brought attention to Mr. White’s book as a gesture of thanks.
The former Houston mayor shared his perspective
L-R: Bill White and Bill Herrington
After a long journey to publication, you don’t want to miss out on the satisfaction of a successful book event. So follow these eight tips and then – in Bill’s words – “Go big or go home!”
Ella Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that delivers quality, integrity, and reliability to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedInor Facebook, or check out the website for more information.
As a corporate banker in New Orleans for 20 years, Bill Herrington actively supported community education alongside his wife Frances, a teacher. In Contraflow,he uses his unique perspective of the extraordinary leadership witnessed after Hurricane Katrina to raise funds to support the education of youth impacted by natural disasters or family tragedies.