Mike Ellerkamp thought he had done everything right.
The life coach was fully prepared to publish his first book, The Simple Little Rule: The Golden Rule Rediscovered. Mike was ready to reintroduce the world to the power of God’s ancient wisdom to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” He partnered with a big self-publishing company and a big marketing company for big results.
But when the book was released, what he got was . . . big crickets.
Unfortunately, Mike’s outcome isn’t unique. Many self-published writers invest a lot of time and money into a quality message — with little to show but disappointment and disillusionment.
After that experience, Mike took a hard look at his assumptions about the book publishing industry. He regrouped. Now, as he prepares to publish his second book, the author candidly shares his three biggest lessons learned in hopes of helping others.
#1 A bigger company doesn’t necessarily mean a better process.
“My first mistake was assuming that giving a lot of money to a big publishing company was the safest route,” Mike explained. “As a new author, you don’t know who to trust. I bought into the sales pitch that a big company would know how to get this done.”
While not all big companies are problematic, Mike experienced several delays. “These large publishers are dealing with thousands of authors and agents,” he said.
Another issue was the growing cost. “I was assigned an ‘account coordinator’ who would ensure a ‘better experience,’” he said. “He did help during a couple of points in the process. But I now realize that he was mostly a sales person first. The company wasn’t unethical. It’s just that the mission of a larger publisher is to sell publishing services—lots of publishing services!”
#2 Bigger activity doesn’t necessarily mean bigger results.
Mike said his second mistake was his marketing plan. “My account coordinator suggested a bigger marketing campaign through ‘bigger and better’ contacts. He cast the bait, and I took it. Hook, line and sinker!”
The 3-month campaign involved a lot of activity. Reports showed that thousands had received his press release, and thousands more were reached through social media. It all looked dazzling. That is, until the sales report rolled in.
“I was excited to land a radio program. But other than that, there were no real results,” said Mike. “I spent a lot of money to speed the process, but it didn’t really enhance the process at all.”
Publicist Sandy Lawrence, the founder of Perceptive PR, said successful book marketing is less about money and more about time. “Most people don’t buy the first time they see. And so, because most first-time authors aren’t known, they first have to become known. Then they can begin to sell books. Naturally this process takes time and perseverance.”
#3 The experts aren’t necessarily smarter than your gut.
It’s critical to find a publisher you can trust. But even when you do, continue to pay attention to your instincts.
“I had done a massive amount of research before I began this new journey,” said Mike. “But I dropped all of that wisdom and listened to the folks at the publishing house instead. In hindsight, I think my money could have been spent in better ways.”
With this experience under his belt, Mike is applying his lessons learned to his forthcoming second book in The Simple Little Rule series. “I’m returning to my own research and following my own avenues to radio shows, newspapers and magazines,” he said, undeterred in his commitment. “I’ll continue to develop the brand the way I originally would have.”
And this time, Mike has a different plan for his resources. “I’m keeping the funding much closer to home and among people I know and trust.” He smiled, adding, “I know better now.”
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 LinkedIn, Facebook, or the website for more information.
Unemployment was no laughing matter for Roni Elayne Singer and Nancy DePrimo Zuromski. They both endured the shock and sadness of losing a job at the same time, and now the duo – both back in the workforce – are setting out to help others.
They are co-authors of a new gift book, Over 50? Menopausal? You’re Fired!!! It’s the humorous tale of Penny Pinkslip, from the humiliating day that she is fired through the five stages of losing a job and to the triumphant moment of accepting a new offer. Packed with colorful drawings and practical tips, the purpose is to provide beneficial job seeking advice and equal doses of hope and laughter.
Roni Elayne Singer
Nancy DePrimo Zuromski
Here, Roni (pictured above left) and Nancy (above right) reveal more about their own experiences and their new book.
Let’s get straight to the heart of the matter. You call unemployment a “rocky road.” What was it like for you?
Roni: It was the worst time of my life. I’ve actually been through several layoffs, but it doesn’t get easier. In fact, each layoff was worse than the last. To make matters worse, my husband left me while I was unemployed, so I had to find a new place to live. I can’t image anything worse for one’s confidence and self-esteem.
Nancy: One of the drawings in the book shows Penny walking with shackles on her ankles. That is exactly how I felt during each layoff.
What would you say was the worst part?
Nancy: For me, the worst was not being able to say goodbye to the many employees who were not only friends but extended family. And, of course, knowing my income was just slashed.
Roni: My lowest low was being escorted out of the building. It happened to me twice. I was treated like a criminal, walking through the corridors with everyone looking at me. It’s truly humiliating and demeaning.
Nancy: Yes. I was escorted out of one oil and gas building where I had worked for over 15 years, and I remember looking down at the white lines in the driveway on my way out, knowing I would never see them again. My son had painted those parking lines when he had “worked” alongside me during one of his summer breaks to learn office skills.
Roni: Unfortunately, the inhumane treatment doesn’t stop there. I was surprised to discover that some people in Human Resources are nice, but most don’t want anything to do with you until they need you. They didn’t return phone calls, and I never knew if they were considering me as an applicant or if they even received my application. It felt very disrespectful.
Do you have any take-aways from that difficult season?
Nancy: I was surprised to learn how many other women in administrative roles were in the same situation as myself. This ah-ha moment made me realize that I must advance my skills so that I may move into another type of employment. I also learned not to take the incident personally and to remember that this was only a business decision, not a failure on my part. And I’ve become confident in the fact that, while I may be over 50, I am capable to offer employers years of experience, common sense and dedication. I’m no longer constantly worried about being laid off because I have proven to myself time after time that I am able to brush off the lint and become employed again.
Roni: Having experienced the heartache of being over 50 and job searching, I am now much more compassionate and empathetic with those who are looking for a job. I’ve also learned patience because the wheels of hiring move very slowly. And I’ve found out that I’m stronger than I thought I was.
Of course, another take-away is this new books of yours! Tell us how such a great collaboration emerged from such a terrible time in your lives?
Roni: The idea for a book came up during what Nancy affectionately calls a “girlfriend check,” our way of staying in touch ever since we became instant friends in 2003 in a performing choral group. It was during one of these “girlfriend checks” that Nancy and I realized we were both facing unemployment at the same time.
Nancy: I mentioned that I had started writing a book about my job search, and Roni piped up that she had started writing a book on her job search too! From there, we compared notes and decided to collaborate.
Roni: For me, it started as emotional therapy, just writing down my thoughts. Then, I was able to put a humorous twist on it. After collaborating with Nancy, we found we really have something good here and that pushed us forward. We were able to take a terrible situation and put a funny twist on it and, at the same time, keeping it very real.
Nancy: We had a common bond of sadness over our circumstances, but it also felt natural to work together because our personalities, the way we see the world, and our senses of humor are so similar.
Speaking of your sense of humor, your title is pretty bold. How did you come to the decision to name it Over 50? Menopausal? You’re Fired!!!
Nancy: We wanted something that was both accurate and attention-grabbing. We’ve seen so many others in our same situation.
Roni: Even though we’re joking about menopause, all people over 50 will easily relate to the book. Many men have read the book – a few have even endorsed it – and they’ve found that even though they can’t relate to the hot flashes, they can definitely relate to the emotions of being laid off. Penny’s lessons are truly unisex.
The book has some great artwork. Tell us about that.
Roni: As a technical writer, I always use graphics to visually describe what I’m writing. So it was a no-brainer for me that this book must have great graphics. Our extremely talented illustrator, Kathy, did a fantastic job in capturing our message exactly.
Nancy: Yes, we wanted to show everything that Penny was going through, even down to lamenting the “dust bunnies” under her bed.
What was it like to publish your first book?
Nancy: Being close friends helped with the ups and downs. We agreed that no matter what happens with this venture, our friendship is what matters most. Successes come and go, but true friendship is priceless.
Roni: Yes, we’ve always been very consider of each other. If we think we said something hurtful, we always talked about it. We bounced ideas off each other and laughed a lot! I can’t think of a better co-author.
Nancy: That’s why no part of the process was difficult. Not like a colonoscopy – now that is difficult! Between Roni’s unbelievable writing ability and our continuous communication, sprinkled with some times of hesitation and laughter, we’ve been able to create a gift for others who find themselves in this situation.
What has been the most surprising thing about publishing?
Nancy, laughing: That it’s actually being published!
Roni: I love this book and am proud of what we’ve done. But as therapeutic as it has been, I’ve found that it still doesn’t take away the emotional and financial pain that was suffered during more than 2 ½ years of unemployment.
That’s why we love that you’re sharing hope and wisdom with others. Do you have a bit of wisdom you want to share here?
Roni: I found networking groups to be the most helpful. They reminded me that I was not alone, and the people there were always very supportive. They are the ones who kept me focused and sane through the process. That’s why I stay in touch with them even though I’m gainfully employed. I want to help others with their resumes and interviewing skills like others helped me. I don’t want anyone going through what I went through.
Nancy: I recommend online training exams similar to those offered through Houston Unemployment and most temporary employment agencies. Testing has always been difficult for me, especially when it’s a make-or-break exam to land employment! So being able to sit in the comfort and peace of my home and challenge myself, by myself, built my confidence so that taking the placement exams elsewhere was easier. I also want to mention that even after we become employed again, we should always be ready for the bottom to drop, even when things seem to be calm seas. Unfortunately, in this economy, no position is safe from downsizing.
Any parting words for your readers?
Roni: I hope you will be able to see yourselves in this book – to see that there is a happy ending coming.
Nancy: Yes. Even at the lowest time in your lives, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As a Master Spiritual Healer, it is my hope that this book will bring enlightenment to those who may not be able to see the rainbow light at this time in their lives. You are not alone as long as you reach out to others for help.
Thank you, Roni and Nancy! We’re certainly not alone now that we have Penny in our lives. To read the hilarious (mis)adventures of Penny Pinkslip, or gift it to someone you care about, we invite you to visit the following links:
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 LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.
Roni Elayne Singer is a trainer and technical writer in Houston, Texas, with two grown children and two grown dachshunds. She enjoys singing, playing piano, cooking and being with her family and friends. Over 50? Menopausal? You’re Fired!!! is her first book. You can find out more at https://www.pennypinkslip.com/ or by emailing Roni at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nancy DePrimo Zuromski is a financial account representative and lives with her husband in Kingwood, Texas. She has two grown sons, three grandchildren, three cats and enjoys spoiling her family. Over 50? Menopausal? You’re Fired!!! is her first book. You can find out more at https://www.pennypinkslip.com/ or by emailing Nancy at email@example.com.
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.
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.
Eleven years ago today, Bill Herrington’s world turned upside down. That was the day that Hurricane Katrina, one of the most catastrophic storms in U.S. history, whirled into New Orleans, Louisiana. The tropical storm breached the protective levee system that surrounded the city, flooding 80% of the city and killing about 1,400 people.
In his new release, Contraflow, corporate banker and first-time author Bill Herrington tells about the lives, businesses, and entire cities that were temporarily reversed and permanently altered by the storm – and of the unforgettable humanitarian response that emerged in Houston, Texas. The book is packed with 70 photos and several endorsements from former mayors, senators, and other leaders who have rallied around his story. It is the winner of the 2017 IPPY bronze for Best Regional Nonfiction (South U.S.).
On this 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Bill tells us why and how he wrote the book.
Q: Bill, several books have been written about Hurricane Katrina. Why did you want to tell your particular story?
Yes, there are worthy books out there about Hurricane Katrina. But I knew that I had witnessed extraordinary leadership on a scale that most people will never see. I couldn’t get it out of my head – I kept mentioning to others that a book should be written about it. As I thought about my unique experience, I realized that I wanted to write the book myself.
Mostly, I felt strongly about paying tribute to people in both Louisiana and Texas who went far beyond any reasonable expectation of helping total strangers in need, people like Father Dan Lahart of Strake Jesuit and former mayor Bill White in Houston. I don’t want their efforts to be forgotten.
In the Preface of the book, I go into more detail about the other reasons I wrote the book. One was telling about the impact of the storm on the entire community. Rich, poor, young, old, all skin colors, ethnicities, and religions – every economic and social sector of the community were all suddenly thrust into a new, non-exclusive class of people who were vulnerable in ways we had never even imagined.
Another reason was to recognize the social and educational institutions that served as temporary pillars in our life. I now realize the importance of educational resources in times of crisis, especially for disadvantaged youth.
In a way, I almost felt a sense of obligation to write the book.
Q: Our graphic designer, Jamie, collaborated with you to produce a beautiful cover. Tell us about the significance of your design.
I chose the title because readers who are familiar with the term “contraflow” will understand that it’s about a hurricane, and readers who are unfamiliar may be curious enough to find out more. I also included the map of New Orleans and Houston with Interstate 10 to immediately convey the important connections between the two cities.
Q: Your book touches on historical, social, and economic dynamics of New Orleans and Houston, but you also tell about the personal experiences of your family. Some of them are meaningful and intimate, like the first glance of your flooded home. And some are quite amusing, like the morning your wife insisted on driving back to New Orleans with you despite your protests. How does she and your family feel about the book?
I’m glad to hear that you think parts of it were amusing. Frances and our children are happy that I recorded these events for history and for our family. We’re also relieved that it’s finished! Frances and I are very private people, and the book exposes us in ways that make us uncomfortable. But I wanted the reader to make a personal connection to our family and other real people who endured the storm so that the significance of the leadership witnessed was obvious and memorable. So even though the storm was such a catastrophic event, the book isn’t only about tragic loss. I tell the uplifting stories, the absurd circumstances, and yes, even the humorous events that occurred.
Q: How did you determine what to include and what not to include in the book?
When I started, I actually did not intend to write a complete book. I only wanted to record, as precisely as possible, certain key events. So, in terms of what I included, I initially only wanted to record several events for my family so that I wouldn’t forget them later in my life. But in writing the story, I realized that the only way I could convey the importance of these key events was to provide the history, timeline and context leading up to them. So, the book is a collection of significant pre- and post-storm stories and the context around them that makes the sections relevant.
In terms of what I didn’t include, a number of tales did not make it into the final version because they were either too sad, or too controversial, or even risqué. In fact, Frances and I had a couple of disagreements in that regard. In the end, though, I think we came to the right conclusions about the content.
Q: One of the most compelling parts for us was the “Lost Children of Katrina.” The difficult experiences of these children really impacted us. Why was it important for you to tell about them?
It’s hard to convey just how difficult this period was for families impacted by the storm. As I explain in the book, even families with resources, like mine, experienced extreme difficulties. To this day, I’m still haunted by the memories and stories of other families who were not as fortunate as we were, especially in terms of avoiding a disruption in their children’s education. For this reason, Frances and I intend to dedicate more of our time, money and energy toward this cause, including any proceeds that may be generated from this book.
Q: How do you hope to make an impact with the book?
I’d like Houstonians to have a sense of pride in what they accomplished . . . not a sense of regret that they got involved with helping after Katrina, which I sometimes hear. And I’d be very happy if I generate some goodwill for some of the institutions that helped New Orleanians in their hour of need. I included a list of them on the last page of the book if readers want to contribute in some way.
Q: As a first-time author, what would you say has been the most surprising part of the writing and publishing process?
I had suppressed many painful memories from the storm. I learned that writing can be a very therapeutic exercise, however difficult it may be. I also learned that writing a book is a challenging undertaking, and I now have a much greater respect for authors.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about writing a book?
If you have a passion for a particular topic, pick up your pen and start writing. You will likely get discouraged along the way and maybe put down your pen for a while. But if you are thoughtful and patient, the end result is very satisfying. Of course, a good editor is a critical piece as well!
Bill, we appreciate your hard work in paying tribute to some amazing leaders and institutions.
To find out more about Bill and his book, please check out the following:
Ella Ritchie is the founder/owner 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 websitefor more information.
David Ivester of Author Guide handles all media inquires for Contraflow. David is our author advocate, publicist, and marketing consultant.
If you don’t, then let us fill in you in. Somewhere between stealing cold cuts from stray cats and watching a stranger leave her mother’s bed after breaking in through their bedroom window, Mary figured out that her family was dirt poor. Worse than her empty stomach, she was hungry for acceptance and love in the shadows of her mother’s choices and on through an abusive marriage.
Running in Heels: A Memoir of Grit and Grace is Mary’s promise of hope for anyone who was abandoned as a child, for anyone who woke up hungry and went to bed hungrier every day, and for every wife who has loved a husband who left bruises on her heart and on her body.
We’ve just released her 412-page second edition, which is updated with more information and packed with discussion questions for book clubs. In this author interview, Mary Ann tells us what happened when she kicked open her past for the world to read – and what her family really thinks about the book.
Q: Mary Ann, the dedication page to your mother is one of the best we’ve read:
In wanting to be better, do better, and become wiser, I realized that I had a lot to learn and am not without my own share of flaws. You did the best you knew to do. It can’t be all bad—just look at me now. I love you then, I love you now. Forever your little girl.
It’s even more meaningful after reading your book. How does your mother feel about your book today? And how did you decide how much to reveal about her and the other important people in your life?
My mother loves the book. She’s very proud of me.
But when my mother first found out that I’d be writing my autobiography, she asked, “Will you blame me for everything?”
I told her, “No. No I will not.”
You see, this was never about airing our dirty laundry. I have no vendetta. There’s no value in bitterness.
When I began writing, I had already reached a point of healing and forgiveness. It took work, but that’s the only reason I was able to put my raw memories to paper – especially those memories that had me sobbing. I couldn’t have written them without inner healing.
The reason I reveal certain details is so that my readers can understand my mother’s frame of mind. She was child-like, both mentally and emotionally. Our roles have always been reversed.
But the writing process was humbling. It was easy to write about my mother during the years that I was a child. However, the writing became harder as I wrote about my teenage years. That’s when I started making my own choices – and my own mistakes.
I don’t have the answers to it all. But I do know this: My mother loved me in her own way. And I love her.
Q: How has your autobiography affected other people?
My children couldn’t wait to finally get the book and read it. They loved it. And they loved actually being able to hear our family’s voices across the pages.
The more surprising thing is the reaction of strangers. When I wrote my story, I hoped that the hardships I’d experienced counted for something, but I wasn’t certain. I’m discovering that people are so receptive. They tell me that they are touched and inspired.
Their reaction touches me. Once upon a time, I felt ashamed. I felt that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t worthy. But today I have a voice. I am better and stronger.
Q: What is your message today?
I want people to know that no matter what life dictates, you don’t have to be a product of your environment. You can do better, be better.
Yes, you may face hard knocks, but you don’t have to drown in them. Don’t blame your lack of education or lack of money. Don’t allow bitterness into your heart. You can overcome these things.
Surround yourself with people who lift you up. I was blessed to meet a man who did not see my failures. He saw me as a strong, independent woman. And that’s who I’ve become today.
Q: What advice do you have for others who are considering writing about their own lives?
I have three pieces of advice.
First, jot down your memories – whatever comes to mind. You can analyze them and add details later. Just get them down first.
Second, know that you will eventually need proofreading and editing.
Third, be true to yourself. Don’t let others try to change your story to make it more sensational. Everyone has a voice, and your story is enough.
Thank you for your honesty and insight, Mary Ann! To find out more about Mary Ann and her book, we invite you to:
Ella Ritchie (pictured left) is the founder/owner 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 websitefor more information.
Mary A. Pérez (pictured right) is a first-time author of Running in Heels: A Memoir of Grit and Grace. She was born in the Bronx, raised in Miami, and now resides in Texas. Of Puerto Rican descent, she is blessed to be the mother of four grown children, “Mimi” to two gorgeous grandchildren, and wife (the second time around) to a phenomenal man for more than twenty years. Contact Maryto book a speaking event, book club presentation, or book signing.
Don Cyphers recently returned from the 2016 Word Conference in San Francisco, one stop along his book tour for I Must. The 70-page teaching tool provides pastors, ministers, and teachers of the Word with practical observations and lessons from I Kings 13 to fulfill their purpose. We caught up with the author and pastor this week to talk to him about what it’s really like to write a book, work with an editor, and fulfill a purpose in life.
Q: Don, we loved your real-life stories in helping us understand your lessons, especially the unfortunate story about cutting a lawn for barely any pay! How is this memory significant for you?
Oh, yes. That was a long time ago, but I remember it well. A friend of mine had offered me $30 to cut his yard. I trusted him, so I drove to his address. But when I got there, I saw that he owned about two acres! I thought, Wait a minute! I can’t cut all that with my regular push mower!
But he reminded me of my promise to cut his yard. So, I started.
As I was pushing, it got hotter and became rough. I tried to look at it as exercise. After a couple of hours, I took a break and went to a Dairy Queen. I wondered, How in the world can I do this? I wanted to leave.
But the Lord said, No, you finish that job. So, I went back. In all, it took me four hours to cut that yard.
When I finally got back home, my wife met me at the door with our baby in her arms. She told me we had run out of diapers and milk. I was hot and exhausted, and then this. Talk about frustrating!
But I’m glad I went back to cut that yard. You see, as I stood there, looking at my wife and my baby, I realized something. All I had was $30 in my pocket, but it was just enough to go to the store and get exactly what we needed.
I finished the job, and it allowed me to take care of my family that day. Forty years later, that’s still my consolation.
I Must is all about finishing what we start. Jesus said in Luke 2:49: “I must be about my father’s business.” He created man to stand up in the starting and in the finishing, no matter how big or small. You, me, society – everything is better when we stick to our promises. The devil will say, You’re a liar. You won’t make it. But that’s why God sent himself – to start the walk of salvation and finish it, for mankind’s sake.
What was the most unexpected part of writing your book?
Yep. Unless you’re a genius and can do fast work, it can’t be done overnight. Especially when you’re dealing with God. It’s meticulous, precise, grinding. And then you have to work with the people who read it. I thank God for my editor, Bradley.
Q: Ah, we’re fans of W. Bradley Wright with The Neuvale Group. What was it like to work with an editor?
Bradley added things here and there, came up with suggestions, and took it to others to look at. He was the one to steer and say, I think we need to go this way or that way. Besides those basics, there were two main things we dealt with.
The first was our age difference: I’ll be 60 years old this year; Brad is 28 years old. I’d put words on paper that he couldn’t relate to because of this difference. For example, I say, “Icebox.” He says, “Fridge.” He helped me relate to a younger generation.
The second was our differences in Biblical understanding. We wrestled with some things so that we could make it all come together for the book. What was so amazing was that he was going through a spiritual change during this process. He was living what he was reading, and God was showing him things spiritually, giving him understanding. And for me, I thought I’d studied, but the more I dug, the more I learned.
For both of these reasons, we really worked well together and balanced each other out. We were like Martin and Lewis. Freak and Frack. When you get a combination like this, you run with it.
Q: Our formatter and graphic designer, Elena Reznikova, laid out your custom cover art, which was created by artist Robert Jones. Tell us about its significance.
A while back, a friend bought me a picture of golden gates. I fell in love with it and have it hanging behind my pulpit. So when the time came to come up with a cover design, I contacted the artist, Robert, who lives near me in the Austin/San Marcos area.
I explained to Robert that the book is about trying to reach the end of a mission. The road is good but troubled and winding, like a snake, and the Devil will try to stop us from getting there. Robert painted this design for the book, and he even gave me a small drawing of it to frame.
Q: What is your best piece of advice for someone who is thinking about writing a book?
I have two pieces of advice.
First, you have to make a commitment. Many people talk about writing a book, but few actually see it to the end. Some people are shocked when they find out my book is published.
Second, don’t have so much pride that you won’t ask someone for help or suggestions.
Q: That’s great advice! What’s next for you?
I hope to travel the world, if it’s God’s will. Traveling is educational – it stretches the mind. I want to reach more people through my book. I’ve had people tell me, “I’ve preached I Kings 13, and I’ve talked about I Kings 13, but I’ve never seen it the way you put it to paper.”
It was an absolute pleasure to work with Don and Bradley in publishing I Must. We welcome you to contact Don if you’d like to order a copy of his book, to schedule a speaking engagement or book signing, or to visit his church, Strait Gate Fellowship Baptist Church in Elgin, Texas.
Ella Hearrean Ritchie is the owner 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 LinkedIn or check out the website for more information.