Buckle up, Buttercup: Writing a book is a marathon

By guest blogger Mike Kowis, Esq.

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.

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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.

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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.

Mike FULL SIZE PIC for Book Cover_08272016.jpgMike Kowis, Esq., is a tax attorney and adjunct college professor. He is the author of two award-winning books, Engaging College Students: A Fun and Edgy Guide for Professors and 14 Steps to Self-Publishing a Book. Mike holds a bachelor’s degree and two law degrees, including an advanced law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. He lives in Texas with his wife, Jessica; their two children; and their two dogs. Contact Mike for a guest blog post or find out more at www.engagingcollegestudents.com.

EllaElla 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.

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Author Interview: How one mother created a tribute to her son

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.       

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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.

Pat and Ella working
Ella and Pat sift through Alex’s work in a collaboration session.

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.

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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!

We invite family, friends, and readers to purchase the book here.

Pat and EllaElla 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 LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for 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 patstone87@gmail.com.

 

 

Choose Your Own Adventure in Book Publishing

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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.

Traditional Publishing

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.

Self-Publishing

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.

Assisted Publishing

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!

EllaElla 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.

 

8 Pro Tips for Your Best Book Signing Event

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 contraflow-cover-mockup-front.pngfact, 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.

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The publisher with Bill Herrington, the author of Contraflow

 

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.

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.flowers.jpg

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.”

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.”guests

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.

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!”

 

Ella7_croppedElla 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 LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

 

Author portraitAs 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.

 

9 tips to nabbing your best endorsement

 

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A few months ago, corporate banker Bill Herrington whooped with joy. I’d just told the first-time author that the former mayor of Houston, Bill White, would endorse his book. He knew White’s words would lend credibility to his memoir about leadership witnessed after Hurricane Katrina.

But White wasn’t the only one. Since then, seven more prominent leaders have endorsed Contraflow: From New Orleans to Houston, which was released last week to mark the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. They include a former senator, former U.S. Army General, school president, former school superintendent, sheriff, magazine editor, and board member.

These endorsements lend more than credibility to Bill’s book. They also extend his reach to people beyond his personal and professional circles, leveraging his opportunities to have an influence on others and to make sales.

So how do you nab your best endorsement? Try our nine strategies for success.

  1. Dream big.

When you make your list of prospects, go big. Brainstorm high-profile people who are relevant to your material. Retired folks make great candidates because they may have more time on their hands but are usually still very connected to the community. Politicians, celebrities, company presidents, prominent community leaders and professionals . . .  The possibilities are endless. Of course, you’ll also want to brainstorm the people you know – and the people they know – who are already in your network. But the point is to reach higher than you think is possible. You’d be surprised how accessible people are.

  1. Pique their interest.

Make sure your email request is as thoughtfully written as your manuscript. You’re asking for more than just a quote – you’re asking for their trust in lending their name to you and your work. So it’s more than just an email; it’s a campaign that’s tailored to each prospect. And one way to get your foot in the door is to craft a subject line that gets attention. Here are some of the subject lines we used to pique the interest of our prospects and motivate them to read our email.

“Mention in an upcoming book”

“References to your leadership”

“Do you remember Mr. Harrigan?”

“A John Wayne Dude”

Some of these won’t make sense to you, but they make sense to the prospect. Take your time and consider the most meaningful approach for each person.

  1. Leverage a publisher.

The more prominent your prospects, the more people that are probably already knocking at their door. Set yourself apart as someone to be taken seriously by introducing your book through a third party, such as an assisted publisher or literary representative. Your prospect is more likely to respond because you’re communicating that you’re more than a one-man band . . . You’ve invested in a credible process and have other people backing you.

Here’s how we introduced Bill’s book to one of our prospects.

Dear (Prospect),

I want to share an excerpt about you in a client’s upcoming book, Contraflow: From New Orleans to Houston. It is his account of the lives of people, businesses, and cities that were temporary reversed and permanently altered by Hurricane Katrina, one of the most catastrophic storms on record. The book is slated for release on April 29, the 11th anniversary of the storm.

We mentioned in the first line that our prospect is in the book so he’d sit up and take notice. And we included the target release date as another way to communicate that this was a serious project – not just an item on Bill’s bucket list.

  1. Share a worthy purpose.

Everyone wants to be part of something bigger than himself. Invite your prospects to be part of your big purpose. The more worthwhile the cause, the more likely they’ll want to join you.

His purpose in publishing the book is two-fold. He wants to honor the civic and corporate leaders, including you, who stepped up to help New Orleanians, exhibiting tremendous leadership and compassion in their time of crisis. He also wants to generate charitable contributions in support of the education of youth who are impacted by disasters and family tragedies.

  1. Drop names.

Mention any weighty endorsements you already have. Your prospects want to know they’re in good company.

Because we admire your leadership, I’m also writing to ask you to add your endorsement of the book to those who have already done so, including retired U.S. Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré as well as the University of Houston’s Center for Public History.

  1. Tell them why they matter.

Explain why you value their name and how their endorsement will make a difference.

I believe your name would lend credibility to the book, helping readers move past any negative connotations they may associate with Hurricane Katrina.

  1. Make it a win-win.

Think of some way you can return the favor by endorsing his/her own cause.

I know that you’ve recently published your own book, and I would be happy to include it in your byline to raise awareness for your cause as well.

  1. Make it easy.

Include a few samples of endorsements that they can edit. If they like your work, it’s standard practice in the publishing world to provide the words you’re hoping for.

If interested, please provide a quote by Friday, July 15. I’ve included a few lines below that are representative of the type of endorsement I’m seeking. To save time, you’re welcome to use them in their entirety if they reflect your sentiments. If you prefer to modify them or write something new, of course that’s more than fine.

  1. Let your material speak for itself.

The first eight tips will get your foot in the door. But no matter how great your pitch, it’s ultimately the quality of your materials that persuade your prospect. Bill’s manuscript and cover design were attached, both of which had been refined through more than a year of editing, designing, and revising with a professional team. His materials reflected his dedication and thoughtful process – and that’s what finally nabbed his endorsement.

Ella7_croppedElla 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 LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

 

author portraitAs 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 Katrina to raise funds to support the education of youth impacted by natural disasters or family tragedies.

Author interview: Bill Herrington pens a tribute to city leaders

contraflow-cover-mockup-frontEleven 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.

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Bill (left) and his son, Chris (right), pose with Father Dan Lahart (middle) at Strake Jesuit in Houston, Texas.

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?

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Bill and his wife, Frances

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?List of institutions framed

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?Back cover

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:

Purchase the book

Share the press release

View photos from the book signing

Read the LinkedIn article

Ella7_croppedElla 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 LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

David Ivester

David Ivester of Author Guide handles all media inquires for Contraflow. David is our author advocate, publicist, and marketing consultant.

The truth behind Mary A. Pérez’s autobiography

You may know Mary A. Pérez as the author of Running in Heels: A Memoir of Grit and Grace, her incredible true story of survival and forgiveness against all odds.

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The author chatting with a new fan at a Kroger book signing

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 leftFront cover 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:

To Mama

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.

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A proud evening for Mary’s mother (middle seated) after a book reading with residents at her apartment complex

 

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?

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Enjoying a fun moment after a presentation for the Cinco Ranch Ladies Book Club

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.

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Lenda Crawford shares how Mary’s autobiography touched her

 

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.

back coverFirst, 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:

Purchase the book

Share the press release

Visit Mary’s website

Ella and Mary

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 LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for 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 Mary to book a speaking event, book club presentation, or book signing.