Interview with June Hyjek

This week’s guest is author June Hyjek.

As a MindBody Coach, Certified Hypnotherapist, Meditation Teacher and Reiki Master, June Hyjek offers extensive experience in pain and stress management, working with clients to help them move through life’s transitions with grace and peace. Her practice emphasizes techniques that work to create physical, emotional and spiritual fitness.

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June’s new book, Unexpected Grace: A Discovery of Healing through Surrender, has just recently been released. This motivational story shares her journey to find healing after life-changing medical challenges and the many losses that came from it. Struggling with career, identity, and self-worth – and more importantly, the loss of dreams and expectations – each phase of the journey brings new truths, lessons and perspectives. With ultimate surrender and a strong connection to a network of friends, June finds true acceptance, without resignation, and balance and center in the extremes of life. With love and support, she discovers the courage to be vulnerable. And at the end of the journey, she comes, quite unexpectedly, to a place of grace.

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Getting to know the author:

How long have you been a writer?

JH: I spent 25 years in corporate marketing, which included a lot of business writing.  Personally, I’ve always used journals as an expressive outlet.  I began writing as an author about 3 ½ years ago.

Which topics do you enjoy writing about most and why?

JH: I’m a fairly contemplative person – sometimes to my detriment – and like writing about life observations, lessons and insights.  I was also told long ago to write about what you know.  So, since I am a holistic health practitioner, using mind/body techniques to help people with pain and stress, I write about these holistic methods.

What do you write? What draws you to this genre?

JH: I write narrative non-fiction, inspirational stories and I try to draw from my own experiences so that I can truly speak from the heart.  I enjoy writing and reading these books because they show us that we are not alone in our struggles, giving us a sense of shared humanity.  Quite simply, these books make us feel good!

Have you won any awards for your writing?

JH: Yes, for “Unexpected Grace: A Discovery of Healing through Surrender,” I’ve won the Bronze in the Global E-Book Contest and an Honorable Mention in the Global Book Contest.

What inspired you to write your first book?

JH: My first book actually came about by accident.  A few years ago, I went through some significant medical challenges.  The night before surgery, I sent out an email to my friends asking them to think of me the next day and to send out a prayer or energetic hug.  I got a lot of responses and encouragement to keep sending them updates.  Things didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, and my updates became a year-long conversation with my friends about my experiences dealing with the pain and transition.  Along the way, my friends encouraged me to turn this “interactive journal” into a book.

What do you think your book offers that others in the same genre do not?

JH: My book is not “self-help” or preachy.  It doesn’t tell anyone what they have to fix, do better or do differently.  Contrary to many stories about a life challenge, I don’t tell them to “stay strong,” “fight through it,” “beat this thing.”  I never use the words battle or overcome.  I try to simply share my experiences, insights and lessons and hope that through my words, the reader will find their own path to peace.

Also, although my issue was a medical challenge, the lessons learned apply to any type of life transition and the story will resonate with readers on many levels.

What is your favorite aspect of the writing process?

JH: I love the part when you get out of bed at 3 am because you can’t sleep since the words are just filling your brain and you just have to get them on paper.  It’s that time of inspired creativity that makes everything seem so clear and bright.

Where do you find your inspiration? What motivates you?

JH: I find my inspiration from life observations, stories and experiences, both my own and those I hear from others.  I am motivated by the sense of a shared community of life, that we are all in this together and ultimately connected to one another.

Who are your favorite authors? Why do they inspire you?

JH: I’d have to say I am inspired more by individuals versus authors.  Some are famous; some are authors; some are neither.  I am inspired by dignity and grace, caring, compassion and openness.  I am inspired by people who try to see, feel and connect.  To name one individual who is, in fact, an author as well as renowned holistic doctor, I am inspired by Dr. Bernie Siegel.  And I am extremely proud that he has endorsed my book.  Why does he inspire me?  Because he understands.  (You may ask, what does he understand?)  Because of his compassion and connection to others, he simply understands.

Is writing your career? Are you writing full time or part time?

JH: I am a full-time author, although I do also have a part-time holistic practice which corresponds to my writing.  I work with people, privately and in groups, to help them create physical and emotional healing using mind/body techniques that enable them to connect to their inner place of peace and grace.  I also conduct workshops and do motivational speaking.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?

JH: I am an avid reader and also incorporate both exercise and meditation into my regular schedule.  But what I enjoy most is spending time with my husband.  It doesn’t matter what we do – watch a movie or a silly sit-com, go for a drive, or just sit outside and relax.

Do you have a favorite motivational phrase?

JH: I have many, and my favorite probably changes daily!  Here are some of my favorites:

We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

-Abraham Lincoln

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

-Pema Chodron

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, won or consumed.  Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.

-Author Unknown

Today we will live in the moment – unless it’s unpleasant, in which case me will eat a cookie.

-Cookie Monster

Where do you enjoy vacationing?

JH: The easy answer is anywhere my husband and I are together.  But I’m sure you were looking for more details. . .I’m not much of a beach person and I’m scared of being in the ocean, but I do like Hawaii and Aruba.  I do enjoy poolside reading, sunshine and a tropical breeze!  I also loved France and would like to see more of Europe.  It’s not the sightseeing I like; it’s experiencing different cultures and histories.

Where are you currently living? Do you find inspiration in a certain room or space of your home or surrounding area?

JH: I live in Willington, Connecticut, most of which is very rural but not farm-like.  Our house and land feels very private and secluded, and it’s very comforting.  I write in my home office, but I’ll get a flash of inspiration just about anywhere – sometimes while sleeping or during meditation, but it can also come when I’m doing laundry!

Books, Writings, and Routines:

What books have you written?

JH: My first book, “Unexpected Grace: A Discovery of Healing through Surrender,” is the only one published so far.  I am also working on a couple other projects.  One is a cook book about foods that reduce pain and inflammation.  The second one is about the tragic death of a young boy, and how the family handles the grief and destruction to the family as a unit.  This one has a working title of, “Quiet Tears.”

Do you have one or two specific spots or places where you write? If so, why do you choose to write there? If not, why do you write in multiple places?

JH: Because of neck and spine injuries and subsequent nerve damage, it’s difficult for me to write by hand.  So I always write at the computer in my home office.

When you write (books) do you have a specific regimen? If so what is that routine?

JH: If I’m writing from a flash of inspiration and creativity, it’s a matter of just getting the words down as quickly as possible.  So I just type, free-flow, no editing.  If I’m having a little difficulty figuring out what I want to write, I will meditate first to quiet the mind and let go.  Then I will outline what I want to say.  If I’m still having difficulty, I will write “Once upon a time. . .”  (I talked about this a little in the beginning of my book.)  Usually, from there, it’s easy to release and the words just come.

In your latest book, is there a specific message that you want readers to grasp?

JH: Yes.  I want readers to have hope and see that life and healing doesn’t have to be a struggle, and that the struggle itself uses the energy you need to heal.  When you look at it as a battle to be won, you make that pain, stress or challenge into an entity and give it power.  When you simply accept – not with resignation, but with peace – your reality of the moment, you can use that energy to move through whatever challenge you’re facing with ease and grace.  Life is about growth and connection, not about fighting and conquering.

Are experiences in your works often based on someone you know, or events you have personally experienced?

JH: Yes.  My work is always based on real life experiences, mine or others.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

JH: I struggled a little with the journal-type format.  But I’m not sure I would change it because I think it would lose some of the personal voice and sound more like a self-help book.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

JH: The hardest part was having the courage to put it out into the world.  The words and story are very personal, and it was difficult to be that open with strangers.  I felt a bit exposed, but I also felt that if someone didn’t like the story, they would not only be criticizing the book, they would be criticizing me.  I had to come to terms with that type of rejection before I could publish.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing your latest book to life?

JH: In addition to having the courage to publish a very honest story, actually creating the book and getting it into the market is a long, difficult process.  I was fortunate, though, to have a great team.  Between my publisher, my design company and my distributor, I was guided through the process every step of the way.

Give us an insight into your main character of your latest work. What does he/she do that is so special?

JH: I guess you could say the main character is me.  What did I do that was so special?  I let go.

How is your day structured? Do you set aside a specific block of time everyday to write?

JH: When I am in active writing mode, I like to write early in the morning, which is when I feel most open and creative.  When I am in the early project phase or focused more on marketing versus writing, I usually start my day with exercise, then a little meditation, and then sit down to plan and tackle what needs to be done.

Do you write every day? If not what days do you write and why have you discovered this works best for you?

JH: I probably write something every day, whether it’s an article, blog, talk or workshop presentation.  As for book writing, I write best when I am struck by that lightening of creative inspiration.  I’ve found that you can’t rush the process and that writing this type of book is not done best in production mode.

How structured are you when writing? Do you draw an outline before beginning or do you enjoy writing freely from scratch? Or do you use another method?

JH: I do both free-flow and outlines, depending on where I am in the project and how I am feeling.  If the words are there, I let them come.  I don’t hold them back because I haven’t outlined yet or because they don’t fit into the outline I’ve already done.  As I said in my book:  “Other than murder, telling a woman she looks fat, and wearing a fanny-pack in public, there aren’t a lot of things that can’t be undone, redone or fixed in life.  We can always go back and change the first line – change our thoughts, our words and our beliefs, and change our lives.”

I can always change what I’ve written.  That’s what the edit and delete keys are for.

JH: Do you develop your characters first, or the plot and events?

I usually start with the concept and then outline the key messages or experiences I want to share.  As was the case with “Unexpected Grace,” I do not yet know how “Quiet Tears” will end.  Since my writing is experiential, I expect that will be the case in most books I write.

JH: How long (on average) does it take you to write a book?

“Unexpected Grace” was written over the course of a year during the actual experience I was writing about.  It then took me about nine months to pull it together and create the manuscript.  I expect the cook book and “Quiet Tears” will take about a year.

Do you believe there is such a thing as writer’s block?

JH: I prefer to think of it as simply a time of less inspiration and creativity.  We all have good days and not-as-good days.  The word itself, “block,” carries an energy of hardness and impenetrability.  Thinking along those lines creates a barrier to the inspiration, while a gentle, compassionate acceptance of wherever you are and whatever is happening at the moment creates an opening for the creativity to flow through.

As an example, there have been times when I’m on a Spin bike during which my pain levels are high; I’m tired and I hurt.  I accept my reality at that moment and give myself compassion to be okay with however my workout turns out.  Inevitably, once I’ve let myself “off the hook,” I end up working just as hard as usual and have a great experience!

Do you set your work aside for a certain amount of time before editing and rewriting? If so, for how long and why do you find this effective?

JH: I don’t think there is a straight answer for this.  It depends on my schedule and the work itself.  If possible, I will usually do an immediate review and edit and I always read it out loud.  Then you can really hear your words.

Who edited your latest book and how did you select him/her/them?

JH: “Unexpected Grace” was edited initially by Rita Reali, who was recommended to me by my publisher.  My design company also had the book edited by their professional editors.

Tell us about the cover. Did you design it yourself or have a team do that for you? If you did not design the cover yourself who did and how and why did you select that designer?

JH: My design company, also recommended by my publisher, came up with the cover.  They gave me several concepts and I kept getting pulled toward this one, even though I initially had something completely different in mind.  With some color scheme and font changes, we came up with what I think is a spectacular cover.

Publishing:

How are your books published? Do you self-publish or go through a publishing company? In your opinion, what are the advantages and/or disadvantages of each?

JH: My book is published by an independent publisher here in Connecticut, and I think independent publishing is the way to go.  The big publishers won’t even look at your manuscript.  Self-publishing may seem easy, and yes, you can get a book up online pretty quickly and inexpensively.  But the designs are templates, not original, and there is no quality control.  Also, you have no guidance on process or recommendations for the right professional services.  And once the book is produced, no matter how good you are at marketing, you will not be able to get your book into libraries, special markets or national retailers.  They only deal with distributors and publishers.  And it would be very unlikely to get a national distributor when you self-publish, generally because of quality issues and lack of referral from a publisher.

From a market perspective, when the public buys a self-published book from an unknown author, and the book is filled with typos or poor writing, it looks bad for the rest of us.  This is happening way too often in the self-publishing market, and it has made readers leery of purchasing self-published books or books from smaller authors.

If an author knows the industry well, is connected to the right professional staff, and is willing to invest significant time and money, they can be successful in the self-publishing market.  But the vast majority have a “build it and they will come” belief, and typically sell less than 100 books over time.

Social Networking and Marketing:

As an author, how do you feel about social networking? Have you been able to use it to your advantage? If yes, how so?

JH: Social networking is valuable because it allows you to broadcast events, such as book signings, workshops, etc.  But it is the group involvement that does more to help than simply putting out an author’s page on Facebook or LinkedIn.  Their value is in making connections to people you don’t know, not just in connecting to friends and family.

What other ways have you marketed your books?

JH: In addition to my distributor, workshops and speaking, I try to attend many author events and book signings.  I also send press releases when events or topics are related and network with people interested in holistic health and healing.

Where and how are your books sold?

JH: My book was just published in May 2013 and re-released about a month ago, so we are at the beginning of the sales process.  Although I actively sell through back-of-the-room or book events, the major sales effort for my book is being done by my distributor.  The book is up online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Shelfari, LibraryThing and a number of other online sites.

“Unexpected Grace” is also in the following mind/body retailers nationally:

Thistle Glass Crafts; Ellington, CT                        Eleventh Step Books; Westmont, NJ

Enchantments; Manchester, CT                        Genesis Books & Gifts; Las Vegas, NV

All in All Curiosity Shoppe; Willington, CT            Golden Braid Books; Salt Lake City, UT

Parkade Health Shoppe; Manchester, CT            Journeys of Life; Pittsburgh, PA

Mondazzi Books; Windsor, CT                        Squirreled Away Books; Armada, MI

The Quest Bookshop; Charlottesville, VA            Mostly Books; Tucson, AZ

Choices, The Recovery Bookshop; NY, NY

We are also currently in negotiations with Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million and a number of library systems nationwide.

Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?

JH: Produce a quality book (whether independently or self published) and get a national distributor.  Recognize that unless you’re a famous author with a big publishing deal, making your book a success will cost money.  Make sure you have dollars budgeted for the marketing of the book, not just on the production.  Both are important, but if you spent all your money on the production, you’ll have lots of pretty books sitting in your garage.  Don’t skimp on production, but make sure your budget includes marketing, too.

Market through a national distributor, get quality promotional materials made up (poster, bookmarks, hand-out cards), attend every book event you can find and set up some of your own.  (Local libraries love to host authors. Local craft shows and fairs.)  Reviews and awards can be helpful, but also expensive and very competitive.  Look at special or non-retail markets related to your subject and book.  If applicable to your book, speak on your topic.  Children’s authors can do story time at schools or libraries.  Other authors can get their books into local book clubs.  Join a local authors’ association.  (Here it is the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association.)  And network, network, network.

How much time to you devote to marketing your books?

JH: Right now, 80% of my time is spent on marketing efforts.

Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would avoid in the future?

JH: I would make a special version for review copies, one that could not be resold.  I gave out over 50 books for reviews and unfortunately, even though the books were clearly marked, “Not for Resale,” many of the reviewers resold the books on E-Bay and Amazon as third party sellers at heavily discounted prices.  This obviously hurt my sales, and there is no easy way to clamp down on this unethical activity.

What do you think of “trailers” for books? (Most online trailers include a brief “movie” or slideshow of photos, music, and text to intrigue readers about a new and upcoming book, much like movie trailers do for films.)

JH: In my opinion, readers are “word” people.  If you like to read books, where do you find out about books you might like to read?  I wouldn’t search You Tube for a book recommendation, and I’m not sure I would be convinced by a commercial, which is what a trailer is.  If you’ve got the cash to spend, go ahead and do a trailer.  But I think the money is better spent on distribution and publicity.  Blog, guest blog, get articles in magazines, related online sites, and newspapers.  People who buy books read.  Let them read about your book, not watch it.

Do you think that giving books away free works and why?

JH: Except for the issue with reviewers, strategically giving your book away can be helpful and it’s necessary to get reviews.  Donating to schools or toy drives (for children’s and young adults), shelters, hospitals, high-profile people in your area, can create publicity and word-of-mouth buzz.

In Conclusion:

Do you have any advice for other writers or new authors?

JH: 1) Learn the publishing industry.  You can’t be an accountant without understanding accounting.  How can you be an author without understanding the industry?

2) Get a mentor to help guide you through the process, act as a sounding board, and be your best critic.

3)  Do right by your writing and produce a quality book.

4)  Develop a realistic budget and make sure you have the resources you need before beginning.

5)  Get professional services.  In this age of self-publishing, we think we can do it all ourselves.  This isn’t a good industry for DIY.  Decide what it is you’re good at and get help with the rest.  I’m a writer, not a designer or sales person.  So I hired professionals for those services.

6) Be patient.  Don’t rush the process, and don’t give up hope when it all happens more slowly than you thought.  Believe in your work.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

JH: Thank you for giving me the honor of sharing my story with you.  I would like to hear yours.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively over the years as a writer?

JH: At one point in my career, I was the editor for a corporate newsletter.  One day, as I plunked the latest edition on my boss’ desk, I asked him this question.  “Does anyone LIKE to write?”  He said to me, “No.  They just decide the end result is worth the effort.”

I understand what he means now, and that has helped me to relax with the process.  Although the process can be difficult, the end result is both humbling and uplifting.  It’s definitely worth the effort.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

JH: Taking your intellect out of the process and letting the creativity come through.

What is the easiest thing about writing?

JH: Typing.  Everything else is hard.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

JH: None, for two reasons.  One, I think we have to walk a certain path to learn our lessons.  And two, if I changed who I was then, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.

How can readers discover more about you and your work?

JH: Readers can visit my website, http://aplaceofgrace.net, and find out more about my book, services, philosophies, blog and upcoming events.

Comments

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