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.

Interview with Amy L. Peterson

Personal: Getting to know the Author: Author Amy L Peterson with Purrkins

Meet this week’s guest, Amy L. Peterson. Amy is a happily married wife, stepmother, author, amateur photographer, outdoorswoman, and keeper of numerous spoiled fuzzy animals. Her writing is diverse, her photography of animals and wildlife unique, and her pets have trained her how to get what they want.

How long have you been a writer?

ALP: If you count writing diaries to document important things like “Brent smiled at me” in 4th grade, I’ve been writing for a long time.  If you’re more likely to count an essay contest, well, I entered a Law Day contest in 7th grade and won a trip to meet a grumpy judge and witness two law students practicing the art of debating.

Which topics do you enjoy writing about most and why? 

ALP:I love writing about my pets, the critters that show up in my backyard (most recently, a chubby groundhog), and funny things that happen to me. Gosh, I’ve never thought about why.  I guess I write about what I love.

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

ALP: I blog about nature, pets and life at amylpeterson.com, and wherever possible, try to include relevant (if not super cute) photos. For magazines, I’ve written a few articles about trips and other adventures my husband and I went on, one of which was called “The Old Men and the Me,” about marlin fishing in Mexico. When it comes to books, I’ve written two humorous, touching memoirs, one—From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds–about becoming a stepmother to four kids ages 3,5, 13 and 15, and the other—Something Furry Underfoot–about raising a whole bunch of pets my husband kept bringing home.  My memoirs include tips, which make them useful in addition to fun reads.

Have you won any awards for your writing?

ALP: Not since middle school. How sad is that?

What inspired you to write your first book?

ALP: When I became a stepmother, the books about stepmother hood were as uplifting as anvils, so I decided to document my experience, much of which was humorous since I hadn’t a clue what I was doing.

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

ALP: From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds is an honest reflection of what I experienced and the tips included are useful to stepmothers and women contemplating becoming stepmothers.  Many other books on the same topic are either depressing or written by self-help “professionals.” What Something Furry Underfoot offers is a useful, fun read with tips about all sorts of pets.  Anyone thinking about bringing a pet into their home will benefit from reading this book.

mouse

What is your favorite aspect of the writing process? 

ALP: Probably the first draft.  The editing process can be sooo tedious.

Where do you find your inspiration? What motivates you? 

ALP: My stepkids motivated me to complete the first book.  And my pets—well, one look at any of my pets and they  make me want to write about them and photograph them.

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

ALP: Erma Bombeck was my favorite author—I loved her sense of humor.

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

ALP: I work full-time for the state of Michigan, so writing and spoiling animals is only a part-time job.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing? 

ALP: Doing just about anything outside—running our 6-month-old puppies, hunkering down in the woods with my ghillie to see what wildlife walks by for a photograph, fishing, kayaking, pretty much anything outside.

Do you have a favorite motivational phrase? 

ALP: Writing and marketing can feel overwhelming at times, and there are times I wonder if I should be spending the time and money I do marketing my book.  So not too long ago, I put the words “No doubt” on my laptop, so that when I open it up to work on something, I’m reminded not to doubt myself.

Where do you enjoy vacationing?

ALP: Anywhere I can go tangle with a fish, especially ones that put up a good fight.  My favorite so far is fishing the Amazon River for peacock bass because they smack at a lure like no other fish.  And, of course, you can’t beat being on the Amazon.

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

ALP: I live in Mid-Michigan on a man-made impoundment that helps attract wildlife.  I write at the kitchen table where I am inspired—and also often distracted—by the critters outside my bay window, and by my husband and my pets.

Books, Writings, and Routines:

What books have you written? Do you have a favorite? Why? 

ALP: I have written From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds, about blundering and falling into becoming a stepmom, and Something Furry Underfoot, about figuring out how to care for and spoil a bunch of different pets.  My first book is mostly for stepmothers and has a limited audience; my second book will really help anyone debating getting a pet.  So I’d give the “favorite” nod to Something Furry Underfoot.  Just don’t tell my stepkids!

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

ALP: Unfortunately, my routine is limited by my schedule: I work until 4 p.m. Monday – Friday, attend to pets and exercise needs, do dinner, and finally, at about 7 or so, I might get to sit down to write.  But soon, Winston, one of my puppies, walks by with an item in his mouth that isn’t supposed to be there—twigs being one thing he loves to sneak in from outdoors—so I have to tend to that. And after dealing with him, I need to make sure the other dog, Snickers, isn’t also into trouble. I’ll sit down for a while longer, before Purrkins, the cat, wanders by with a pitiful meooooww  to remind me I haven’t refilled her dinner plate.  My husband, meanwhile, will try to fill me in on the latest fishing lure he’s found online and what lake he thinks it’ll work best on.  And so it goes.  I call it my Interrupted-Often Routine.

dog

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

ALP: The message in Something Furry Underfoot is that every animal has a story and I think our job as pet owners is to make that story as good as possible.  I think my book helps people make good decisions before they buy a pet and also how to care for certain pets.  Hopefully,  readers will realize that even two similar looking critters—like two hamsters or two birds—have different personalities and needs.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

ALP: Figuring out how to deal with the fact that pets die.  I didn’t want to gloss over that and I didn’t want to bum people out.  As a result, my book is mostly humorous in nature, but there are some very touching moments.

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

ALP: By the time I got done editing it, gave it to a professional editor, and gave it to some friends to edit, I had re-lived the touching moments (e.g. sad parts) quite a few times.  And of course, the more I had to revisit something, the more I worried I’d edit too much…or not enough.

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

ALP: In Something Furry Underfoot I try to describe what it’s like living in a house where the only thing my spouse had to do is bat his puppy-dog eyes and he got to bring another pet into the house. I also try to convey what it’s like from my perspective having to deal with all the critters he brought home, most of which I knew nothing about.  Yet the thing is, neither of us really do anything special except try to make the best possible life for our pets.

Pork

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

ALP: If marketing counts as writing, I write every day.  And if it doesn’t count, well, I personally think it should.

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

ALP: I’ve never had that as a goal.  I’m more driven to complete the story I’m trying to tell. So, if it’s a blog posting, I try to get it done before the end of the weekend.  If it’s marketing, I try to get the interview finished so I’m higher up in the queue with the book blogger.  If it’s a book, I suppose it’s done when I’m exhausted with editing.

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?

ALP: Because I’ve written memoirs thus far, my books pretty much are told in chronological order.  The tips I include help break up the chapters so the book can be read in chunks, which I think adds to its appeal.

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

ALP: 2 years.

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

ALP: Yes. While I haven’t run out of things to write about because I have been blessed with a great husband, great stepkids, great pets and great experiences in life, I have to say that when it comes to writing things like sympathy cards, I can get writer’s block pretty easily. I think because I’m a writer I feel some pressure to come up with something outstanding on sympathy cards and never come up with anything except “You’re in my thoughts.”  Which, granted, is probably better than, “Hang in there!”

Do you recommend any “tricks” or tips on how to get through writer’s block?

ALP: Here are my tips:

  • Before writing, put the words “No Doubt” on your computer screen or keyboard. That will help remove any doubt that what you are writing will be important somewhere, sometime to somebody.  Hopefully, LOTS of somebodies.
  • Sit down, write down the first thing that comes to mind about your subject and don’t stop writing until three of your body parts are completely cramped up—your two hands and your back, perhaps.
  • Go for a brisk walk to un-cramp all your body parts.  Follow this by jumping into a cold shower or a pool of freezing cold water.  Doing that will definitely give you something to write about. (In fact, perhaps you’ll be so kind as to write me a note to let me know if it worked for you, as I’ve never tried it).
  • Don’t try to capture everything.  I’ve known several people working on Master’s theses and they think they need to “get it all down on paper” because it might be their last paper on the subject.  Narrow it down to something workable.  In its earliest draft, Something Furry Underfoot included a lot of wildlife interactions—those all came out of my book so now I remain focused on indoor pets.
  • Repeat steps 2-4 as needed.

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?

ALP: I usually do my own editing first, then I hire a professional editor for at least the first 60 pages or so, then pass it off to a friend editor who learns from the professional editor’s changes, then I have friends read my book, then I do one last edit.  Then I hope for the best.

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

ALP: I hired G. Miki Hayden to edit the first 60 pages or so, then a secretary friend of mine, then I asked five friends to review an early draft.  Every single one found something that needed fixing.

Tell us about your book covers.

ALP:  I found my graphic designer, Patricia Adams, through a friend at work who hired her to work on a web site. For From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds, I sent Patricia a photo of my wedding cake and she recreated that for the cover of the book. It’s a great replication of my cake:  a bride and groom and four kids on top in a fishing boat, with the bride’s fishing pole connected to a bigger fish than the groom’s.  My web page graphic artist then put Patricia’s creation onto a nifty background.

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For Something Furry Underfoot, I wanted to include a bunch of my pets but I had no clue how to present them.  I sent Patricia photos of some of my pets and she created the bright, colorful cover of a woman looking a bit overwhelmed with her menagerie of critters, while her husband is all smiles.

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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? 

ALP: I’d love to have an agent and for that agent to help me break in with a publishing company.  I tried that route about 10 years ago and was assigned a rookie agent whose query letter to publishers made it sound like she’d not read my book; the draft letter had typos.  When my contract with that literary agency came up for renewal, I didn’t renew.  The advantage of self-publishing is that anybody can get something published. The down-side is that the author has to spend a LOT of time marketing. Since August of 2013, I’ve spent every available hour in the evening doing social marketing to obtain contacts for reviews, interviews and guest blog postings. I’ve had a lot of good exposure, but I’ve also sent copies of my book to people who’ve not responded one way or another with a review, and not even a “Thanks, got your book, but not interested, so I’m going to donate to the library.”  So, it’s tough being a self-published author.  Which goes back to having the words “No doubt” on my laptop.

Do you have any e-books? If so, how does the e-book process differ from getting hard copies published or put together? 

ALP: I hired the same person to do my e-book and paperback conversions because I have no patience for that type of nitty-gritty detail.  I had the book converter do the e-book version first, then the paperback.  The paperback also required paying my web page graphic artist to help with the back cover and spine so it matched the specifications and matched the front cover.

How did you decide to price your e-book relative to your hardcopy?

ALP: I priced the e-book at $2.99 which is a pretty good price for a helpful book, I think. I priced the paperback at 50 cents over cost.  I think I priced them at a reasonable price to sell.  But I guess we’ll all find out, huh?

Social Networking and Marketing:

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

ALP: Authors that self-publish need to take every advantage possible of social networking opportunities. Through networking sites I’ve found book reviewers, opportunities for written and speaking interviews, and bloggers who’ll post a guest spot.  Every Twitter lead I get, I check out the person’s web site to see if I can make any tie to my book.  I got a sci-fi writer to read my book because his Twitter photo has him posing with his dog.  I also just sent a book to a bunch of moms to review my book because my book will help moms decide what pet to get.

Which website or social networking site is your favorite to work with? Have you had the most online success with this website? 

ALP: GoodReads and BookBlog.ning have been my go-to sites until about October 2013, when I discovered MARSocial site, which has opportunities for authors, too, including contests.

What other ways have you marketed your books? 

ALP: Since Something Furry Underfoot is about pets, I am marketing my book on professional sites like PetPav and BlogPaws.  I’ve also found some sites where people blog about their own pets and in some cases, they have some affordable advertising rates. If they review my book and like it—which they all have so far–I explore advertising on their site.

I’ve also developed a video about the domestic duck we raised, and am working on another video featuring all sorts of different pets, with the overall message similar to my book.  My hope is that one of the pet blogging sites will want to add their logo to the second video and also help get the word out.  It’ll be like a book trailer, with supporters.

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Where and how are your books sold?

ALP: Amazon.com and Smashwords.com.  Amazon offers the Kindle e-book version and paperbacks; Smashwords has every other type of e-book format imaginable.

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

ALP: If I wrote another book and had a relatively large budget to spend, I’d hire a publicist, because they know the ins and outs of social networking sites, and the good publicists have contacts that can really get the word out quickly.  If that’s not an option, then the author will be like me and need to look for every opportunity on their own.

How much time to you devote to marketing your books? 

ALP: Since I didn’t think my market for From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds would be very large, I only spent a few months marketing that book, primarily through a book blog tour.  Because I think Something Furry Underfoot has a broader audience, once I finished the print version in July, marketing is really all I’ve done.  I will continue Something Furry Underfoot until I have no more marketing thoughts, or until I get the bug to work on my next book. Or until my husband or pets say, “Pay more attention to me!”

What do you do to get book reviews?

ALP: I’m always on the look-out for more reviews and constantly track down new requests via social networking sites.  Most pan out, but some do not.  I also found participating in a book blog tour is a pretty good way to get book reviews.  Now, while I refuse to pay a lot of money for book reviews, people with big budgets should consider doing so because reviews do help sell books.

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

ALP: I spent money on two big-ticket items:  one, something called Review Direct, which gets your book included in a listing of books librarians can consider; and secondly, on a press release. Sales from libraries were minimal, so my next move is to make direct contacts with librarians in my area to see if they can “talk up” my book via their network of librarians. Sales from the press release were minimal because important people—the press and others you might want to reach–get too many press releases and many go unread.  Of the three press people that asked for my book after seeing the press release, one month later, none had contacted me for a follow-up story or interview.

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.)

ALP: I would think trailers would be pretty effective if you’ve got the right distribution channel established and adequate resources to create one.  Marketing really comes down to where it’s best to spend your time and money, and thus far, I’m no expert on that.

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

ALP: Unfortunately, I think self-published authors have to give away some books for free to get reviews from people, whether or not the person actually finishes the review they promised. As far as giving away e-books to a mass audience, that’s a tough one.  I did that for one day with my first book and gave away more copies than I’ve sold.  I did not do a give-away for Something Furry Underfoot because I think that any e-book that makes you laugh out loud and maybe also cry, is a bargain for $2.99.

In Conclusion:

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

ALP: I hope that people that read Something Furry Underfoot will laugh, and maybe cry, and that they come to agree that our job as pet owners is to make our pets’ lives as good as possible . . . even if it is a work in progress (says Purrkins, the cat, anyway).  Best of all, some proceeds from Something Furry Underfoot will benefit animal rescue organizations.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

ALP: For me, it’s waiting:  waiting for editors, waiting for book converter people, waiting for things to go live, waiting for people to discover my book, waiting for an interview to post, waiting to become a well-known author.  Other than that, there’s no waiting at all and I’m a very patient person.

What is the easiest thing about writing?

ALP: The easiest thing is the social marketing because I’m meeting a bunch of great people I’d otherwise never have met.  I’ve met a mom in the UK who went out of her way to tweet about my book, and a woman in Nigeria who was part of my book blog tour.  People all over the world are out there looking for books and willing to help authors out.  It’s been quite amazing.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

ALP:  Put the words “No Doubt” on my computer when I was 20.

How can readers discover more about you and your work? 

ALP: It’s best to go to amylpeterson.com and from there, you can click on the cover for Something Furry Underfoot to see a chapter-by-chapter summary and photos of some of my pets. On my web site you will also see an “About Me” page that is mostly truthful, my videos, and my blog, which is mostly about pets, including several 10 Ten Things You Should Know Before You Get a [fill in the pet] series.

Interview with J. Conrad Guest

Happy Wednesday everyone! This week’s interviewee is the one and only, J. Conrad Guest. J.’s novels are about everyday people dealing with the universal ideals of love, loss, regret, and death, along with the emotions associated with those ideals. His work is “gritty, entertaining, and real.” He is said to write romance for the non-romantic.

Personal: Getting to know the Author: jconradguest022

What inspired you to write your first book?

JCG: My first novel, January’s Paradigm, written more than 20 years ago, was the result of a bloodied and bruised heart. What started as therapy turned into a labor of love: if I couldn’t find the proverbial happily ever after for myself, then I would write one for my alter ego.

When I reached the halfway point, I realized it was a project I likely would finish, so I shared with my dad that I was writing a novel. He loved reading, to the point where he named his only son for his favorite author—Joseph Conrad. Imagine my dismay when he asked me what I was doing wasting my time on such an endeavor. I was at that time unemployed, and he felt I should be spending every available waking hour looking for work. It was a stressful time in my life, and working on January’s Paradigm gave me a place of refuge, a world where I was in control of what happened. It taught me a lot about myself, and helped me to heal. It was also a wonderful distraction from the frustration of changing not only jobs, but careers as well. In the end, when Dad read the first draft, he was pleased.

What do you think your books offer that others in the same genre do not?

JCG: In a publishing world that likes everything to fit neatly into a box, my work defies genres. The Cobb Legacy is a mystery written around the shooting death of baseball legend Ty Cobb’s father by his mother. It takes place a century later and follows the life of a writer coming to terms with his adulterous affair and impending divorce, while trying to connect with his dying father, a World War II veteran.

500 Miles to Go, another sports-themed tale and due to launch later this year, is about the importance of, and the risks associated with, the pursuit of dreams.

One Hot January and January’s Thaw, successors to January’s Paradigm, compose a science fiction diptych in which Germany has won World War II. A time travel yarn, OHJ and JT are my tribute to Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled detective genre. Joe January is described as an indignant Humphrey Bogart. The first book takes place in 1947 New York City; but by the end, January is transported a hundred years into the future, where he must survive on his outdated sagacity as he tries to return to his own time and the woman he loves but lacked the courage to tell.

A Retrospect in Death is a journey in self-discovery. The story starts with a man’s death, and the reader is taken to the other side of the Great Divide, where the narrator encounters his higher self, the part of him that is connected to the Creator. Much to his chagrin, the narrator learns he must return to the lifecycle, but not before being debriefed. So he and his higher self set about recounting his life, but in reverse chronological order, knowing the end and searching for the breadcrumbs along the way to account for his discontent.

Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings is a pseudo autobiography. I started with my youthful dream to play major league baseball; but where I allowed my parents to steer me down another path, Backstop goes against his parents’ wishes to make his dream come true.

I’m currently shopping my eighth novel, A World Without Music, about a veteran of the first Gulf War suffering PTSD seeking to find the music that will make his life worth living.

I mix and match genres, even if all of them deal with relationships—between men and women, and fathers and sons.

My fiction appeals to readers who seek something more than what traditional genre fiction offers: the bodice-ripper romance, hard science fiction, formula mysteries.

What is your favorite aspect of the writing process? Where do you find your inspiration? What motivates you?

JCG: I love the creative process. Early on in my literary career, I fretted over publication. Each rejection letter resulted in my questioning my resolve as well as my ability, and my writing suffered for it. It was easy to let days and weeks go by without setting down a single word. When I finally learned to enjoy the process and let go of the fear of rejection, I became a writer. Perhaps not so surprisingly, once I did, publication soon followed.

I find inspiration in writing about everyday people going about their everyday lives and dealing with everyday issues: love and loss, regret and redemption. A reader once said of my work, “Gritty, entertaining… real. Romance for the non-romantic.” I count that as one of the nicest comments about my work I’ve gotten. I find that writing about everyday people teaches me a lot about myself, and what could be more inspirational than that?

As for what motivates me… well, I’m motivated by a need to connect with readers as well as a love for language. I’ve found nothing more gratifying than arranging words on a blank monitor, knowing I’ve crafted a great sentence, an exchange of dialogue, or a scene. Of course, a cup of good coffee and a fine cigar go a long way to jump start me in the morning.

Books, Writings, and Routines:

Have you won any awards for your writing?

JCG: Backstop was nominated a 2010 Michigan Notable Book, while the Lewis Department of Humanities at the Illinois Institute of Technology adopted it as required reading for one of their spring 2011 courses—Baseball: America’s Literary Pastime.

A short story of mine that appears in a Second Wind anthology was nominated for a Pushcart.

Do your books seem to revolve around the same morals and themes?

JCG: That’s a definite yes! I’ve found many people averse to morals; many seem to think morals are those things others place on us—like the Bible telling us not to covet our neighbor’s wife. Who am I tell someone infidelity is wrong? I think we’ve gotten too attached to our personal rights, to the point of excluding the rights of others.

The January books in particular deal with the oppression of women. Fresh from 1947, Joe January notes that women of the twenty-first century are more oppressed than the women of his era. They allow themselves to be used sexually under the guise of freedom. In other words, freedom without accountability results in oppression of a different kind.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

JCG: For A Retrospect in Death I opened a vein and bled profusely, relying on certain autobiographical events in my life, fictionalized to protect the innocent. While it was difficult, especially recounting events from my youth, I found it wonderfully therapeutic, and found much closure and healing.

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Do you recommend any “tricks” or tips on how to get through writer’s block?

JCG: I’ve experienced writer’s block only once. It was while I was writing One Hot January, my second novel. My parents both took ill and eventually passed away, which left me orphaned and grieving; but I was struggling with the plot, too. When I got a chance to go to New York City, which is the setting of the story, I jumped at the chance. I visited a number of places that Joe January frequents, and I hoped to catch up with him, figuratively. When I got home I wrote a piece of flash fiction in which the character catches up with his author in Central Park. After that, I caught fire and finished both January books in fairly short order.

These days I never encounter writer’s block. That’s not to say I don’t experience days where I might flounder, but I’ve learned a few tricks to minimize those days. For one, I try to finish a writing session in the middle of a scene or an exchange of dialogue. That leaves me anxious to start my next session because I know exactly where I’m picking up.

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?

JCG: All of my novels, save for January’s Paradigm, are published through independent presses. It’s nearly impossible for writers who aren’t household names to get published by one of the Big Six, perhaps more so for authors like me who don’t write to a formula.

Self-publishing is both a boon and bane. Yes, it allows many writers the chance to have their voice heard; but it also allows them to do an end around to learning craft. I recently learned that the new publishing model is simply to upload your book and let your readers tell you what’s wrong with it. Then you revise, upload, and repeat the process until a major publisher picks up your work. To me, that’s simply wrong. E.L. James proved it’s possible to win the lotto, but that just doesn’t happen very often. It gives new writers a false sense of hope. Actors learn their craft; athletes spend years playing their sport for a chance to make it as a pro. Writing is no different. There are no shortcuts to success. But in America, we’re all about instant gratification. Get more than three rejection letters, and self-publish. The end result is that there are a lot of poorly written books available, which only makes it more difficult for the cream to rise to the top.

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?

JCG: I keep reading of the importance of social networking. I understand that E.L. James parlayed her social network to become a bestseller. I sure would like to know how she did it, because I haven’t come close to the success she achieved.

Publishers are now asking upfront about a writer’s social network. I network on Facebook, where I have an author page, and have profiles on Goodreads and LinkedIn. At LinkedIn I participate in a number of author groups, but I don’t see that it’s helped much.

Every author is networking. Many of my Facebook friends are writers; I “like” them and they “like” me, but I haven’t noticed that it translates to sales, even though I’m told consumers tend to purchase based on number of “likes.” I don’t know if that can be proven, because I certainly don’t buy a book based on popularity. If I use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature and don’t like what I see, a thousand “likes” won’t get me to buy. I don’t buy my Facebook writer friends’ work any more than they buy mine. I want to get my work in front of consumers, and I’m not sure how to accomplish that.

Marketing and self-promotion, for me, is the most difficult part of my writing life. I’m sure I could do more, but I’m not good at it. I’ve talked to writers who claim to spend more time marketing than writing. I’d rather spend my time writing than promoting. If I could afford it, I’d hire a publicist; but they’re very expensive and expect payment upfront, not results based. After spending hundreds of hours writing, revising and polishing a book, an investment of time with no monetary reward, I’m asked to outlay a thousand dollars or more for services for which there is no guarantee for results.

Where and how are your books sold?

JCG: My books are sold, in e-format and trade back, at Amazon, Second Wind Publishing, and Pulse Publishing.

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

JCG: I understand the theory behind giving away books—give away something in hopes of enticing sales down the road. One of my publishers rotates giveaways for all his authors, and I receive notice of each download of my titles. They are copious; but whether it translates to sales of my other novels, I can’t say. Frankly, I’d rather my publisher give away a partial file, say half of the content, to get the consumer hooked, then make them purchase the remainder to find out what happens. Of course, this would mean more work creating another downloadable file, but I think it would be financially beneficial to both my publisher and me.

In Conclusion:

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

JCG: I’m still learning my craft; each new project teaches me something new. As evolution goes, I think the process is much easier. Like an exercise routine, the more you work, the more you want to work, and the easier the work gets. I’ve streamlined the process. Early on I agonized for an hour over a single sentence, selecting the right words and making sure they were in the right place, moving punctuation. Now I trust myself, and it comes easier. That’s not to say I don’t give myself permission to make changes later; but it’s no longer the battle it once was.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

JCG: You can learn more about my literary world at my website and by simply Googling “J. Conrad Guest.” Please consider signing my guest book on my website. I write to connect with readers and find that’s a good way to measure with whom I connect. I promise I won’t spam!

Amazon Author page

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Publisher’s website

Author Interviews

Hello friends! In celebration of the November release of Tales of a Sevie, I will be posting an author interview once a week each Wednesday afternoon.

Over the past few months I have consulted with dozens of authors of diverse genres from all around the world to hear about their journey, writing regimen, and their latest events and books.

IT’S ONLY WEDNESDAY?!?!  

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To rejoice getting half way through the week, have some fun each “hump day” and join us to discover:

-What inspires an authors first book

-The dos and don’ts of publishing

-Fiction vs nonfiction discussions

-Characters vs plots

-How to create your own book cover

-What some authors wish they would have known before marketing their work

-The fastest way to increase your book sales

-The cure for writer’s block

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Check back each week to see just who I will be chatting with.

 The first few months will include visits from:

Ashleigh Galvin

Maryanne Raphel

Renee Novelle

J. Conrad 

Nancy Petralia

Amy Peterson

Deanna Klingel

Adrian Collins

June Hyjek

Mary E. Dawson

George Duncan