Author Interview: Co-authors work up laughter and hope in a self-help gift book for unemployed readers

Front coverUnemployment 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.

Front cover

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.

 

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.Penny Pinkslip in shackles

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.

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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:

Purchase the book

Check out the book announcement

 

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.

Roni Elayne Singer headshot

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 pennypinkslip@gmail.com.

 

Nancy DePrimo Zuromski headshotNancy 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 pennypinkslip@gmail.com.

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Should authors purchase their own ISBNs for their books?

A Quick Author Guide to ISBNs

Hands down, ISBNs is the most confusing element for self-publishing authors. And the single most common question is this: “Should I purchase my own ISBN? Or should I use the one provided by a publishing services company?”

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of owning your own ISBN. This way, you can make the best decision for you and your book.

But first, here are a few basics.

What is an ISBN?

ISBN is short for “international standard book number.” It’s a 13-digit number that you can find on the back cover of a book, above a bar code. That bar code is a simply a translation of your ISBN into a format that is compatible with scanners in bookstores.

ISBN barcode for books

What is the purpose of an ISBN?

It uniquely identifies every book that is published worldwide. An ISBN holds important information such as your title, publisher, and geographic location. This number helps simplify the distribution of your book to publishers, booksellers, libraries, internet retailers and other supply chain participants around the world.

One thing the ISBN does not do is establish copyright. You as the author are the rightful owner of your intellectual property under copyright laws. An ISBN does not change this.

Do I need an ISBN?

You need an ISBN if you want to sell your book in bookstores, to libraries, or through online retailers like Amazon.com. Otherwise, you do not need an ISBN.

Where do I purchase an ISBN?

The only official source of ISBNs in the United States is Bowker Agency.
Who should purchase the ISBN?

The individual or company that will be listed as the publisher of the book should apply for the ISBN. The publisher can be you as the author, a publishing services company, or a traditional publisher.

(If you’re still uncertain which kind of publishing option is best for you, check out our previous blog post called, “Choose Your Own Adventure in Book Publishing.” In it, we explain your three basic paths to publishing. You’ll see that a traditional publisher will expect you to use its ISBNs. So this question is really only for self-publishing authors.)

So now that you understand the basics, let’s get back to your question . . .

Should I purchase my own ISBN? Or should I use the one provided by a publishing services company?

Well, it depends. There are pros and cons to either option. The right answer for you depends on your publishing goals. Here are some of the factors you want to consider before you make a decision.

 

Cost

If you purchase your own ISBN, you’ll discover that the cost is surprisingly high. One ISBN through Bowker Agency is $125. And you need a different ISBN for each format of your book. That means you’ll need three ISBNs if you plan to publish your book as a paperback, hardcover, and e-book. Also, you’ll probably want guidance in knowing where and how to purchase your own ISBNs, which may also increase the cost of your publishing plan.

One bit of good news here is that you can purchase ISBNs in blocks that are discounted. For example, a block of 10 ISBNs costs $295. You can save a lot of money if you purchase a block.

In contrast, if you use an ISBN provided by a publisher, the cost is likely less expensive because your publisher purchases ISBNs from Bowker Agency in large blocks. The savings can be passed to you.

Paperwork

If you purchase your own ISBN, you’ll need to complete two extra steps in the publishing process. First, you’ll establish yourself as a publisher and set up your publishing account. Second, you’ll need to establish an account with Bowker Agency and set up your ISBNs.

If you rely on a publishing services company for your ISBN, these tasks are handled for you.

Time

If you establish yourself as a publisher, Amazon says it may take up to 6 weeks to be recognized by retailers. That means it could take another 6 weeks before your book is available online. The way to get around this is to be sure to establish your accounts early in the process. This way, you’ll avoid any delays with the release of your book.

If you use the ISBN of a publishing services company, there is no delay in releasing your book because that company is already recognized by retailers as a publisher.
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One potential downside to using your own ISBN is that it clearly identifies you as the publisher. This means that readers will know that you are a self-published author. For some authors, this is not desirable because they’re concerned that their work will not be taken as seriously.

The benefit of using an ISBN from a publishing services company is that it presents a more professional image. It communicates that you’re not a “one-man band” – you have the backing of a company, and your work was refined through a professional process. Readers will not be able to tell if you are a self-published author or a traditionally published author. Ultimately, it adds credibility.

Royalties

If you purchase your own ISBN, one benefit is that you retain 100% of royalties from online sales. Plus, you also do not have to wait for royalties. The money is deposited directly into your bank account. And you can check royalty reports any time you want.

In contrast, if you use the ISBN of a publishing services company, you may be expected to share some of the royalties. Be sure you ask about this policy so that you feel comfortable with the percentage of royalties that you may be sharing. You will also likely have to wait. Royalty reports and payments are usually sent annually or semiannually.

Independence

If you purchase your own ISBN, you have the freedom to make any changes when it comes to the future of your book. For example, you may decide to change to a new publisher or to stop publishing your book entirely. You can make these changes without having to wait on your publishing services company to make them happen.

If you use the ISBN of a publishing services company, you will need to follow its procedures to make changes to your account. Be sure you read your contract and feel comfortable with the company policies. Even then, your book may be impacted in the worst-case scenario that the company goes out of business. You may want to ask if there are any precautions in place to protect you and your book in this scenario.

Support

You need to consider how much support you want with your book after it is published.

If you purchase your own ISBNs, then you manage your own publishing account. This means that you place your own book orders, read your own royalty reports, and receive your money directly. You decide if and when your book is distributed. In other words, once your book is published, there is no publishing services company between you and your book. You’ll retain control of every aspect of your book moving forward.

If you rely on a publishing services company, these administrative tasks are handled for you. You’ll call the company when you want to place a book order, and they will handle invoicing, ordering, tracking the order, issuing royalty reports, and mailing royalty payments. They’ll also be there to make updates to your account or to answer any questions long after your book is published. Some authors prefer this hassle-free experience and want to make sure someone is around to help them.

The Ultimate Factor

All of these factors will help you make the right decision. Ultimately, the choice to purchase your own ISBN or to use one provided by a publishing services company depends on what brings you greater peace of mind.

Do you value the security of knowing that no one and nothing can come between you and your book, even if it means more cost and hassle? Then publishing your own ISBNs is the way to go.

Or do you value the security of knowing you’ll have a seamless publishing process and professional image as well as help in the years after your book is published, even if it means relying on a company? Then choose a publishing services company that you can trust.

Whatever you decide, you’ll make an informed decision and enjoy a more peaceful process.

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.

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.

3D mockup Engaging College Students.jpg

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.

3D mockup 14 Steps

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.

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.       

This-Is-Me-cover-mockup-1

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.

This-Is-Me-interior-mockup-3

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

open door

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.

bill-ella
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

 

Detail of a businessman gesturing tumb up

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.