This is a guest post by Joan Wester Anderson.Joan began her career in the 70’s, as primarily a magazine features writer. As time passed, she wrote several books, including Where Angels Walk, which became a New York Times best-seller and stayed on the list for 54 weeks. WAW became the first in a nine-book series published by Ballantine Books. Joan has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV talk shows and documentaries, but says that her most important contribution to the world has been “raising fine children.” You can find Joan on Facebook, Twitter and her website,and herbook onAmazonandB&N.
Lives there a book lover who does not dream of becoming an author? With the advent of computers and an explosion of niche publishers, such a project is certainly within reach. But I wouldn’t recommend it, not for a beginner. For the writing is by far the easiest part.
I began freelancing in the Dark Ages as a temporary measure, to help feed our five young children. I had noticed that whenever I wrote an irate Letter to the Editor at the Chicago Tribune, it was always published (in those days, it took little to rev me to irate status.) One day I added a hundred words, called it a “guest editorial,” and received a check right away.
Amazing! Small sales in newspapers and baby magazines followed, leading to editorial assignments, larger publications and yes, thoughts of a book. By now I’d found a fellow writer, with an even larger brood. Neither of us would ever have time to write a full book, we felt, but if we combined our small reprints, and filled a few literary holes, we might co-author an essay collection. Not knowing about queries, we assembled the manuscript mostly over the phone, our conversations punctuated by background screams and crashes from the toddlers. We flipped a coin to see who got stuck typing the draft, including the cost of carbon paper, then sent two copies to two small Christian publishers who had run some of our articles. We were astonished when one of them actually phoned, and accepted LOVE, LOLLIPOPS AND LAUNDRY then and there. I believe our advance was $200 which, of course, we split.
Birthing a book instead of a baby was a novel experience. As Chicagoans, we had access to small radio stations and local TV personalities who invited us on as guests to kibbitz about family life with the audience. Our book was a natural for both Valentine’s and Mother’s Days; at local signings we passed out chocolate hearts along with our autographs. All this attention, and getting out of the house at the same time! Who could ask for more?
My partner eventually opted for a p.r. job where she would wear shoes and be paid regularly. But I had been bitten by the writing bug and went on to author 16 more books (including a series on angels.) Looking back, I believe we had happy career outcomes because we started small and built””letters into essays, into co-authored projects, learning the trade, dealing with rejection and constant financial uncertainty, discovering that, along with ability, a writer must also be a self-starter… all valuable training for the writing and speaking I have done since.
Today so many beginners START with books, biting off huge commitments of time and effort, inevitably surrendering before they’ve truly tested their talents. I long to tell them that selling a filler to Life with Lettuce may lack glamour, but it’s still the best way I know to eventually Write That Book.