Author interview: A doctor’s stories forge a vision in American health care

Just when I thought I had heard the best stories that Dr. Michael Attas had to offer, he surprised me.

We had just wrapped months of revising and expanding a collection of his stories, and it was time to write “About the Author.” My task was to sum up Dr. Attas – a renowned cardiologist, retired Episcopalian priest, and founder of the Medical Humanities Program at Baylor – into one succinct biography.

But something was missing. I gave him a call.

“You know, it just occurred to me. I don’t know how you got started. What made you get into medicine in the first place?” I asked. It’s a question posed in his book.

“Ah,” he chuckled lightly. “Well, that’s an interesting story. . . .”

A few minutes later, I hung up the phone, shaking my head incredulously. How could that have happened to him? And how is it that I’m just now hearing about it?

I looked again at the “About the Author” page and smiled, rolling up my sleeves. I suppose it’s only natural that the life of a storyteller should be told through a story.

Because that’s what Dr. Attas is. He is a storyteller—a masterful one at that. And he is unveiling the best of his stories in his new release, Medicine at a Crossroads.

2018_Medicine-at-Crossroads_Attas.M_6x9_3D

 

Medicine at a Crossroads is a 200-page collection of stories and conversations to forge a vision for health care. It is for physicians, patients, and anyone in the American healthcare system. In other words, it’s for all of us.

In it, Dr. Attas addresses the most pressing questions in medicine today through the lens of the medical humanities. Individually, each story of illness, medicine, and healing provides a tiny, fragmented glimpse into the heart of a problem. Collectively, the stories forge together to help us find our way to compassionate, humane health care—and, ultimately, healing for all.

We asked Dr. Attas a few more questions to learn how his stories came together.

Author portrait_MAttas2
Dr. Attas at his alma mater, Baylor University. Photo courtesy of the Marketing and Communications Department.

You mention in the Introduction that the collection took shape in the classrooms of Baylor University, where you founded the Medical Humanities Program. What was it like to establish the first program of its kind in the country?

The biggest challenge in the early years was getting other well-established and successful departments to think outside of their own boxes about premedical education. They had to “buy into” the notion that physicians might benefit from an exposure to the humanities.

At that time in Baylor’s history, funding for a particular department was directly proportional to the number of majors. So in a very real way, when a student decided to major in Medical Humanities instead of Biology, it resulted in less administrative funding for Biology. That system, thankfully, has now been changed, and is seen as less “threating” for the classic sciences. Academic “turf wars” are very real, as anyone in higher education can tell you.

We’re grateful for your persistence because the Medical Humanities Program has redefined how students prepare for a career in health care. Of all of the classes offered, what was your favorite class to teach?

I called it Philosophy of Medicine: the Nature of the Patient/Physician Relationship. We explored various models, history, literature, and current political/economic debates. It was so very timely. Students still contact me with ideas and questions in real life that they are struggling with.

One of your former students, Dr. Allison Sellner, confesses in the book to feeling uncertain about what others would think of her untraditional path. “As an early medical student,” she writes, “I felt that my Medical Humanities major needed an explanation, sometimes even an apology. ‘Oh, but I minored in Biology and Chemistry,’ I would say.” She adds, “I realize now that this perceived ‘weakness’ is, in fact, a tremendous asset.” Do you think this stigma still exists? 

There is a nationwide shift in realizing that medical students who are exposed to the humanities actually perform better. Despite this, there is still powerful cultural bias that they might somehow not be able to learn the sciences at the level they need to. Luckily, students like Allison are breaking down those stereotypes.

We’re excited that you’ve collected your best stories into a book for everyone. Do you have a favorite story?

Yes, it’s in a chapter in the Physician section called, “A Moral Claim.” It’s a story about a rancher who had been my patient for nearly twenty years. I had come to know him and his family quite well. After repeated hospitalizations for congestive heart failure, he was running out of options. All he wanted to do was go home with his family to look at his cows in fields of bluebonnets. His land, his cattle, and his family had defined his life, and he wanted to die in their presence.

It still tugs at my heart strings. At some level, it captures the notion of the type of physician I always wanted to become. It took me a while to “get there” I suppose, but hopefully that type of lesson is one that young students will take seriously.

It’s certainly not the only story that stirs emotion. You’re very candid in all of your stories. Have you ever been concerned about sharing any of your opinions or experiences?

I suppose any author wants to be affirmed, yet I’ve never worried too much about any pushback from the sharing of stories. I have had one or two negative emails about the ambiguity of medical ethics and the stories I tell to make a point. I suppose there are some people who like things in nice, tidy little boxes of black and white. Unfortunately, real world medicine isn’t like that.

You emphasize the importance of mentors in the real world. Who have you looked to for guidance over the years?

I had many mentors in my training years. After I went into private and academic medicine, I didn’t often run into many of them, but what they taught me bubbled to the surface at odd times. They became my lodestar when I would struggle.

In particular, a seminary professor named Will Spong – now deceased – was someone I could call on. He always provided a fresh perspective on my struggle to integrate medicine into the other components of my life. He was grounded in reality, not a pie-in-the-sky kind of religion or medicine.

You were already grounded in your work as a cardiologist, but you managed to earn a Master of Divinity alongside your career. What prompted this? And how did it impact your outlook and work?

It’s a long story, but briefly: I was always intrigued by religion and the notion of service. Early pastors who were ahead of their time in the 50s and 60s convinced me that a life of faith and a life of the mind were not mutually exclusive. I also became existentially convinced that both were calling me to a life of service. So, eventually, I knew that to study religion wasn’t a “shift” as much as a natural progression.

So, you’ve recently retired from a 40-year career. You discuss in one of your chapters the relationship between retirement and vocation. This chapter must resonate with you deeply now. How have you adjusted?

I miss my patients. Daily. At night. In my dreams.

I have not missed the chaos, the fatigue, the night call, the computers, and the stresses. 

I have loved the freedom to wander down rabbit trails intellectually, to travel, and to continue to learn and explore this fantastically beautiful world.

It’s one thing to have the freedom to tell stories. It’s another to write them. Tell about the process of writing the book.

The collection is an evolution of articles that I had previously written for The Waco-Herald Tribune. Revisiting them, organizing them, and focusing them was an emotional time for me. It brought back memories that were raw and often hard, yet it also brought back much of the joy that medicine provided me for 40 years.  

One thing that truly surprised me is how important it was to have an editor who “gets me,” both as a writer and as a human. I couldn’t have done this without her.

Ultimately, I have come to think of the book as my gift to my patients, my students, and to others who might read it. Whether it will “change” anything is out of my control.

Of course, your book involves more than the writing. Tell us about the “stained glass” cover design.

In the Introduction, I talk about my fascination with stained glass—the way fragments are hammered together into panes to forge larger scenes. It’s the same way I see medicine. Medicine at the Crossroads is about piecing together the stories of brokenness, grace, loss, and healing into a larger narrative truth. Three panes represent the three perspectives in the book: the physician, the patient, and the healthcare system.

If you could inspire your readers to do something, what do you hope it will be? 

I hope readers will simply ask themselves one basic question: “How will any healthcare system allow stories like this to flourish?”

Because any proposed model must, in my mind, allow for the gifting of stories and the listening of stories. Without this, all of the science in the world will fall on rocky ground.

As readers ask themselves this question and grapple with solutions, they may want to talk with you. How can they do that?

Now that I am retired, I would hope that I’ll always be available to walk with others through their own journeys.

I would prefer not to get into the “telemed” form of medicine that is taking off. I would rather help systems, patients, and physicians fine tune their own lives around creative changes and healthy responses. I also don’t think I have the heart or emotional energy to delve too deeply into the political side of things. I find the dialogue and heated rhetoric too simplistic and toxic. Surely we can do better than this.  

I will always be available for email advice. Except when I am on the river fishing. That is a cardinal rule. 

Mosaic
An avid fly-fisherman, Dr. Attas is also the co-author of Fly-Fishing—The Sacred Art (SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2012).

It’s clear that you’re enjoying your retirement on the river! Before we leave your readers with the book, is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Yes. I told students that in order to survive and grow in this field, you need two things.

One is the willingness and be hurt and wounded and still love and give back. 

The second is community: spouses, friends, and colleagues. No one can do this alone. But if we surround ourselves with others who will honor our journey, then we can do this for the long haul.

Thank you, Dr. Attas. For more information:

Check out the book announcement

Purchase the book

 

Author portrait_MAttasMichael Attas, MDiv, MD, is a renowned cardiologist, retired Episcopal priest, and founder of the Medical Humanities Program at Baylor University, the first program of its kind in the United States. His revised and expanded essays on contemporary healthcare issues in Medicine at a Crossroads first appeared in The Waco Tribune-Herald. His first book, Fly-Fishing—The Sacred Art (SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2012), was co-authored with Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer to share lessons from fly-fishing on reflection, solitude, community, and the search for the Divine.

EllaElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a book publishing team that provides a peaceful process and pride in every product for nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. For more information, connect with her on LinkedIn or at the website.

 

 

Advertisements

What is a Library of Congress Control Number — and how do authors get one?

I didn’t expect to geek out at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., but that’s what happened. From the marble floors to the stained glass ceilings, the national library is a glorious place.

I had traveled there to get the scoop on control numbers for self-published authors. But before we get to that, let me share a few fascinating facts about the library itself.

LOC

What is the Library of Congress?

It’s the largest library in the world, with about 838 miles of bookshelves and 167 million items. The Library of Congress serves as the research arm of the U.S. Congress.

After the congressional library was destroyed by British troops in 1814, this new library was established thanks to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson had sold his personal collection of 6,400 books as a replacement. He believed that democracy was dependent on free access to knowledge.

The purpose of our universal library is to preserve and provide access to sources of knowledge in all subjects.

Jefferson library
The original Thomas Jefferson collection

What is a Library of Congress Control Number?

A Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) is a unique identification number containing a year and serial number.

It’s assigned by the Library of Congress to book titles that are likely to be added to its collection. I say likely because the number is assigned before a book is published. The decision on whether a book is added to the Library of Congress happens after publication. A copy of the book is mailed to the Library for review, and a final decision is made.   

Ultimately, LCCNs help librarians find correct cataloging data for books that have been published in the U.S.

What is it not?

An LCCN isn’t the same as a copyright, although the Library of Congress houses the U.S. Copyright Office.

An LCCN is also not the same as an ISBN. Whereas each format of a book requires its own ISBN, only one LCCN is assigned to a book. You can find out more about ISBNs here.

Do I need an LCCN?

You are only required to have an ISBN for your book, which allows your book to be made available to retailers. You are not required to have an LCCN. You only need an LCCN if you want your book to be made available to libraries.  

Quote

What does an LCCN look like?

An LCCN is located on the copyright page of a book. There are two types of LCCNs, so the way your LCCN looks depends on which type you are assigned.

One type of LCCN is called a Cataloging in Publication, or CIP. It’s a set of data that includes information like the author’s name and Dewey decimal system subject headings. It looks like this:

CIP

 

Another type of LCCN is called a Pre-Assigned Control Number, or PCN. A PCN looks short, like this:

PCN

Am I eligible for an LCCN?

It depends on a few factors.

Let’s start with the two basics. Is your book longer than 50 pages? Are you working with a U.S. publisher? (Self-publisher, this means you.) If your answer is yes, you’re eligible for an LCCN.

Now let’s figure out which type of LCCN is right for your book. You can be assigned a CIP or a PCN, but not both.

Are you working with a big publisher? A book that will be widely circulated by a big publisher is assigned a CIP.

Are you a self-published author or small publishing company? Most books by smaller entities fall under the PCN category.

If you’re still not sure which type of LCCN is right for you, here’s a simple rule of thumb: Will your books be printed on demand? If so, you are eligible for a PCN.

Ceiling

How likely is it that my book will be accepted into the Library of Congress?

Almost all books with a CIP are accepted into the Library of Congress.

The acceptance rate of books with a PCN is surprisingly good, around 60 percent.[1] This is because one purpose of the Library of Congress is to preserve an account of the nation. Local history and genealogical information are more likely to be produced by self-published authors and small publishers. These materials are valued as part of a holistic view of the United States and its people.

floor

How do I apply for an LCCN?

Your publisher will register for an LCCN for you.

If you’re a self-published author, you can apply on the Library of Congress website at http://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/. It costs nothing except your time, and it only takes about two weeks to receive an LCCN before your book is published. After publication, send a physical copy of your book to this address:

Library of Congress
U.S. Programs, Law, and Literature Divisions
Cataloging in Publication Program
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C.20540-4283

Building

What happens after my book is reviewed by the Library of Congress?

Your book will either be accepted into the collection or rejected. If your book is accepted, your LCCN will appear in the official Library of Congress catalog for librarians. You’ll be able to search it anywhere. If your book is rejected, your LCCN may remain on your copyright page, but it serves no purpose.

Ella

 

Ella Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or the website for more information.

[1] RJ Crayton. “Self-Publishers May Want to Try for Library of Congress Cataloging,” Indies Unlimited, https://www.indiesunlimited.com/2016/01/25/self-publishers-may-want-to-try-for-library-of-congress-cataloging, accessed July 20, 2018.

Three Ways a Book Publishing Plan That Seems So Right . . . Can Go So Wrong

Mike Ellerkamp thought he had done everything right.

The life coach was fully prepared to publish his first book, The Simple Little Rule: The Golden Rule Rediscovered. Mike was ready to reintroduce the world to the power of God’s ancient wisdom to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” He partnered with a big self-publishing company and a big marketing company for big results.

Cover

But when the book was released, what he got was . . . big crickets.

Unfortunately, Mike’s outcome isn’t unique. Many self-published writers invest a lot of time and money into a quality message — with little to show but disappointment and disillusionment.

After that experience, Mike took a hard look at his assumptions about the book publishing industry. He regrouped. Now, as he prepares to publish his second book, the author candidly shares his three biggest lessons learned in hopes of helping others.

#1 A bigger company doesn’t necessarily mean a better process.

“My first mistake was assuming that giving a lot of money to a big publishing company was the safest route,” Mike explained. “As a new author, you don’t know who to trust. I bought into the sales pitch that a big company would know how to get this done.”

While not all big companies are problematic, Mike experienced several delays. “These large publishers are dealing with thousands of authors and agents,” he said.

Another issue was the growing cost. “I was assigned an ‘account coordinator’ who would ensure a ‘better experience,’” he said. “He did help during a couple of points in the process. But I now realize that he was mostly a sales person first. The company wasn’t unethical. It’s just that the mission of a larger publisher is to sell publishing services—lots of publishing services!”

#2 Bigger activity doesn’t necessarily mean bigger results.

Mike said his second mistake was his marketing plan. “My account coordinator suggested a bigger marketing campaign through ‘bigger and better’ contacts. He cast the bait, and I took it. Hook, line and sinker!”

The 3-month campaign involved a lot of activity. Reports showed that thousands had received his press release, and thousands more were reached through social media. It all looked dazzling. That is, until the sales report rolled in.

“I was excited to land a radio program. But other than that, there were no real results,” said Mike. “I spent a lot of money to speed the process, but it didn’t really enhance the process at all.”

Publicist Sandy Lawrence, the founder of Perceptive PR, said successful book marketing is less about money and more about time. “Most people don’t buy the first time they see. And so, because most first-time authors aren’t known, they first have to become known. Then they can begin to sell books. Naturally this process takes time and perseverance.”

#3 The experts aren’t necessarily smarter than your gut.

It’s critical to find a publisher you can trust. But even when you do, continue to pay attention to your instincts.

“I had done a massive amount of research before I began this new journey,” said Mike. “But I dropped all of that wisdom and listened to the folks at the publishing house instead. In hindsight, I think my money could have been spent in better ways.”

With this experience under his belt, Mike is applying his lessons learned to his forthcoming second book in The Simple Little Rule series. “I’m returning to my own research and following my own avenues to radio shows, newspapers and magazines,” he said, undeterred in his commitment. “I’ll continue to develop the brand the way I originally would have.”

And this time, Mike has a different plan for his resources. “I’m keeping the funding much closer to home and among people I know and trust.” He smiled, adding, “I know better now.”

AuthorMike Ellerkamp is a life coach, inspirational speaker, and Houston chapter leader of the Nonfiction Authors Association. He is the author of The Simple Little Rule: The Golden Rule Rediscovered, in which he brings to life a profound tenet through five principles and shares his own spiritual, philosophical and historical journey along the way. Contact Mike for a book event or speaking engagement, or connect with him on his website, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

 

 

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, Facebook, or the website for more information.

The Power of Publishing Your “Big Why”

You wouldn’t guess the long, emotional journey that has driven Dr. Alanna Bree to establish A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology – nor its nonprofit counterpart, A Children’s House for the Soul. Her face only beamed joy as supporters streamed in the doors of The Health Museum in Houston. They were there to support the first annual happy hour fundraiser for the nonprofit. Bill Brown, the longtime voice of the Houston Astros, emceed an evening of tasty bites, signature cocktails, and auction items.

collage.png

But Dr. Alanna’s whole-hearted commitment was evident when speakers began sharing the impact of A Children’s House. A child life specialist explained the deep needs that the nonprofit fulfills in children and teens with skin disorders and birthmarks. A high school student with a rare genetic skin disorder talked about the respite from bullying that he enjoyed at the “Love The Skin You Are In” Family Days. A woman with a highly visible skin condition praised the nonprofit for helping her to embrace her unique beauty as a teenager. Through each speech, tears flowed quietly down Dr. Alanna’s face.

collage2.png

This is her “big why.” Her whole purpose is to cultivate this healing and hope in the world – not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually.

This is what the whole evening was about. It was about more than what Dr. Bree does (care for children and teens with skin disease and birthmarks). It was also about more than how she does it (with compassionate, holistic care, flexibility, and reasonable prices). It was all about why she does it.

In his TEDx talk titled, “How great leaders inspire action,” marketing consultant Simon Sinek says this approach is what makes Dr. Alanna different from other physicians. You see, true leaders share their “big why” to inspire people to take action. Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”[1]

This is the reason Dr. Alanna just released, A Children’s House: A Small Story About a God-sized Dream. The 140-page autobiography chronicles her journey to becoming a pediatric dermatologist – and the four unmistakable words she heard from God that forever altered her course. She tells with honesty how she quit a successful but unsatisfying career to find her ultimate purpose and fulfillment. It’s a stunning read for everyone: medical students, professionals, believers, and nonbelievers alike.

collage3.png

It’s also a stunning example of the power of sharing your “big why” with others. Dr. Alanna is communicating from “the inside out,” as Sinek calls it. She’s sharing the drive behind her cause, the whole reason her nonprofit exists. And it’s already making an impact.

As guests streamed out of the Health Museum, stakeholders stopped to tell Dr. Alanna that they were inspired by her message. Patients were grateful she hadn’t given up. Board members were surprised by their impact on her success. Dr. Alanna smiled at each of them. Now that they understand her “big why,” they are empowered to make a difference.

PubAuthor Portrait_editedElla 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 the team on LinkedIn, Facebook, or the website for more information.

Alanna F. Bree, M.D., (right) is a board-certified pediatric dermatologist and owner of A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology, where she specializes in holistic care and effective treatments for skin conditions and birthmarks in infants, children, and teens. She is also the founder and executive director of a nonprofit organization, A Children’s House for the Soul, which provides social, emotional, and spiritual support for affected children and families in the Houston area. Connect with the clinic on Facebook and Twitter, or connect with the nonprofit on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

[1] Simon Sinek, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” TED, https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action#t-21349, accessed March 29, 2018.

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.

Penny Pinkslip cleaning dust bunnies.png

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.

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.
Image

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.