Author giving a gift to readers

Grassroots Book Marketing 101

Your book is not about you.

Even if you’ve written a highly personal memoir … your book is not about you.

Your book—or at least the marketing of your book—is about your readers and what they take away from hearing your story and absorbing your key messages.

Identify Your Core Messages

Author giving a gift to readers

Photo by David Castillo Dominici

Identifying those main points is a critical task to undertake before you start pitching your book to publishers or before you upload your files to self-publish. You absolutely must understand what you’re offering to readers—what aspects of your story will touch someone’s heart, make someone think or speak to a universal truth.

The fact is, this is one of the hardest parts of publishing. Most of us aren’t actually very comfortable talking about ourselves, and this discomfort only grows when we feel like we’re being “too salesy.”

But think of it this way: When you advocate for your book, for your story, you’re helping it reach more eyes and ears—which means more people can benefit from your message and your hard-won wisdom. You’re giving prospective readers a gift!

Reframing what it means to pitch or sell your book gives you the chance to think more broadly about who wants and needs to hear what you have to say.

You can reach beyond the low-hanging fruit—local media, libraries and bookstores—and connect with new audiences (which translates to selling more books).

Whom Can You Help?

So, who could benefit from hearing your story?

  • Are your key messages right for teens or younger readers? Reach out to a teacher you know and find out what local schools require of speakers for in-class presentations or assemblies.
  • Does your story have a faith element? Contact churches that organize faith-sharing groups, Bible study or men’s/women’s groups. Even if the groups are small, every reader with whom you engage becomes a potential word-of-mouth marketer on your behalf.
  • Contact your former high school, college or professional school. Are there experts there who would be interested in your topic—and who could connect you to others in their network?
  • Does your message translate into the business realm? Larger companies often host speakers for professional and personal development programs or at all-company meetings.
  • Look into your area Rotary club or other civic organizations. How can your message help build a stronger community? These groups will want to know!

The list goes on and on depending on your areas of expertise. And therein lies another rub: You have to get comfortable with positioning yourself as an expert, whether through study or lived experience.

Just remember: Only you know exactly what you’ve been through, how it’s changed you and how it can help other people. So, don’t be shy.

Make a list of your key messages …

Briefly outline talking points for each of them …

And get out there and share your magic with the world!

 

Author Q&A: Deirdre Klein Ochipinti

Deirdre Klein Ochipinti is the devoted mom of two children, Alec and Kate, who have enriched her life immeasurably. She shares her family’s journey in Super Alec’s Very Super Day: An Adoption Story to support other adoptive families and inspire would-be parents to consider the joyful path of adoption.

Super Alec's Very Super DayWhat prompted you to write Super Alec’s Very Super Day?

Alec was born ten weeks early and had to be in an enclosed incubator to regulate his body temperature. Some days, his health was so volatile between the temperature and forgetting to breathe, the only thing I could do was read to him. So I read and read. When he came home, I continued to read. He thrived.

When Alec was eighteen months old, I went to the bookstore to find a book to introduce the word “adoption” to him. This was advice from the plethora of physicians Alec had to see—neurologists, pulmonologists, psychiatrists, gastroenterologists, and pediatricians, not to mention his personal social worker specializing in adoption families. “Talk to him about adoption,” they told us. “Let him know the word, let him feel special, let him ask questions. Always be honest and clear.” I didn’t want a book with a uterus or a book of adopted animals! If it was to be clear, it had to be clear … for a toddler.

There were no adoption books with the things a young child loves: balloons, birthdays, babies, moms, dads, a pet, and maybe a superhero. Hence, my next journey—and as I soon realized, huge challenge—began: writing a children’s book.

Which books and writers inspired your storytelling?

Our home library was always filled with the traditional superhero stories. Once I realized my adopted boy had a very special tie to his favorite superhero, I knew I had to write about it.

As a first-time author, what challenges did you face in your writing process, and how did you overcome them?

Deirdre Klein Ochipinti

The biggest challenge for me as a small-town mom and unknown author was getting my story in front of an established publisher. The slush pile is real.

Ahead of my work were celebrities and other established, published authors who were agented.

Perseverance got me through. I knew this book was needed. I was not going to stop until it was published for the adoption world, to help other moms and dads communicate with their adopted family.

What advice would you give to other aspiring authors, especially those who dream of creating children’s books?

Keep on keeping on. That is the toughest part—to not lose hope, never give up, and don’t let anyone, anyone, deter you from your important mission.

What has been the most fulfilling part of the writing and publishing process for you?

The look on my son’s face when he realized that he is so important that he has a book written about him. I want other adopted children to feel the same way.

What’s the primary takeaway you hope readers learn from Super Alec?

How cool it is to be adopted.

Brandi Wallace-Gill

Welcome New Author: Brandi Wallace-Gill

Brandi Wallace-Gill

Brandi Wallace-Gill with her husband, Andrew, and daughters Lexi and Drew.

KiCam Projects is thrilled to welcome Brandi Wallace-Gill to our family of authors!

Brandi will be publishing her first children’s book in time for the start of the new school year.

Drew Is Just Like YOU! tells the story of Brandi’s younger daughter, Drew, who was born without a left hand and part of her left arm.

Despite her physical difference, Drew is an active, energetic force of nature who succeeds at everything she does! As she prepares to begin school in August, Drew and her mom want everyone to feel comfortable around Drew and to welcome her into all of their activities.

They have the same dream for all kids born with differences—that their schools and communities will look beyond the physical to see the wonder in every child!

So, what can Drew do? She loves softball, soccer, and swimming, and she even shows pigs at the county fair every year. She’s learned to ride a bike and tie her shoes, making it clear to everyone along the way that there’s no stopping her!

Brandi, a reading teacher at Hamersville (Ohio) Elementary School, couldn’t be more proud of her little girl.

And we at KiCam couldn’t be more proud to welcome Brandi—and Drew— to our family of authors!

Deirdre Klein Ochipinti

Welcome New Author: Deirdre Klein Ochipinti

Deirdre Klein OchipintiKiCam Projects is thrilled to welcome author Deirdre Klein Ochipinti to our family of authors!

Deirdre, mom to two beautiful children by way of adoption, has written her first children’s book, Super Alec’s Very Super Day: An Adoption Story, to encourage all adoptive families and kids and help them love their unique story!

“After the recommendation that I received time and time again from our plethora of medical personnel to ‘… tell Alec at every diaper change about adoption,’ ‘… always in a positive way how he was meant to be part of this family,’ ‘… start early, start now …,’ I knew I needed a children’s book with big, beautiful pictures depicting adoption in the most amazing way,” Deirdre says.

I knew this book needed to be written for a very underrepresented audience: the adoption community.”

Super Alec is based on the true story of a boy named Alec, born into this world destined to become the adopted, beloved son of Deirdre and Joe Ochipinti … and later a brother and mentor to his adopted sister, Kate Alexandra.

The story takes readers through one of Alec’s most memorable moments: the day he hears his adopted baby sister is coming home. The big reveal is saved for the end. Meanwhile, Alec takes on a big job that puts a unique spin on adopted superheroes.

Deirdre’s lovely book will be available in time for National Adoption Day in November, and we could not be more proud to publish this project.

Welcome to the KiCam family, Deirdre!

Writer taking notes

Understanding Your Pathways to Publishing

“Getting published” can mean very different things to different people, and the right pathway depends on a number of factors, such as your goals, your timeline, your resources, your connections, and your platform.

So, in this post, we’ll take a look at the various pathways to publishing: traditional publishing, self-publishing and hybrid publishing, also known as author-subsidized publishing.

Keep in mind that every pathway has its own merits. None is inherently better or “correct,” and whichever one you choose, you will be best served doing your homework before committing. Becoming an author is like starting your own business—you need information and understanding to succeed, no matter what.

Traditional publishing

Writer taking notesTraditional publishing is probably the model with which you’re most familiar. In this model, a publisher buys the rights to an author’s work for an advance payment against royalties. The publisher provides editing, design, distribution, marketing, and sales support for the author. As books sell, the author makes a percentage royalty—often 10% on those sales.

The mecca of traditional publishing is New York City, home of the Big Five houses, but good traditional publishers can be found anywhere, especially depending on the genre you’re writing.

Getting a traditional deal still holds a particular cachet for many people. But if you’re just starting out an as author, there’s a high barrier to entry. In a traditional relationship, the publisher bears the risk—they have to recoup the costs they sink into your book. That means, they need to know the book will sell through. So, you’ll hear a lot about “platform”: Are you a speaker? How many people come to your talks? Do you have a social following with at least thousands, if not tens of thousands, of followers? Do you have great blurbs and endorsements from big names? Have you done media? Essentially: Do people know, and care, who you are?

Traditional houses also generally want to work with authors through agents, because they believe those agents know the business, have an eye for talent, and are bringing them manuscripts that are already in great shape.

They also typically acquire manuscripts twelve to twenty-four months out. This allows time for editing, design, and production, as well as a six-month pre-sale window for retailers.

Getting signed by a traditional publisher does not guarantee your success. But the large houses do bring resources to the table that small houses or independent publishers might not have.

Is traditional right for you?

  • Do you have a strong enough platform to get noticed?
  • Do you have an agent and/or do you have the time to find one?
  • Are you OK with the long lead time from acquisition to publication?
  • Is traditional publishing your dream?

Self-publishing

TypewriterSelf-publishing has blossomed in the past ten years. No longer do you have to have a publisher to publish a book! Literally, anyone can create a free online account, upload some files, and publish and sell a book.

It’s simple … but it’s not easy. 

When you self-publish, you are 100 percent becoming an entrepreneur. You are writing, directing production, marketing, selling, and managing your book with no help. For some people, that comes very naturally; for others, that’s way more work than they can realistically take on.

There are two primary self-publishing tools: Amazon’s KDP and IngramSpark. In both cases, it’s free to create an account. You print books on demand, as each copy sells. In the process, the production costs and Amazon/Ingram’s royalty are deducted from your sales. There are handy charts online that will show you how to calculate your royalty per copy, so it’s very transparent, which can help you plan.

You can upload your files whenever you’re ready, and within 72 hours—voila! You’re a published author! If you’re writing on a timely, newsy topic, or if you’re using your book for a specific event or purpose, this can be a fabulous tool.

Now, a caveat: If you want to do it right, you will have to invest time and money into the publishing process. You need to hire a professional editor, a professional proofreader, a professional cover designer. People absolutely do judge books by their covers, and the number one thing that will discredit a book is a cover that looks homemade. Invest in your own success.

These days, there are so many freelancers and services available, there’s no reason not to put your best foot forward.

And once you do, and your book is live, remember: Now you have to do the marketing and sales. Many people refer to their book as their “baby,” and it’s an apt analogy. Think about it: Once the baby is born, you have to do the care and feeding, right? Same with your book.

Marketing, sales, and publicity never stop. As a self-published author, you need either 1) the time and resources to do this yourself or 2) the time and resources to find consultants, agencies, experts, etc., who can help you make your book successful.

Is self-publishing right for you?

  • Do you have a topic that needs to publish within a certain timeframe?
  • Can/will you commit to finding professionals to help you make your book successful?
  • Do you have the time, energy and resources to invest in your new book (aka your small business)?
  • Is your goal just to “get the story out there”?

Hybrid publishing

Author typingHybrid publishing is the newest kid on the publishing block. In this author-subsidized model, the author makes an initial investment to cover the publisher’s costs, then has the potential to recoup that investment with a higher back-end royalty.

KiCam Projects has moved to a hybrid model in the past year because it allows us to take on more projects we want to say yes to. As a small press, we have to mitigate our risk while fulfilling our mission. 

The authors who work with us benefit from the same quality editing, design, marketing, and national distribution they would get with a traditional publisher. In our system, they invest $5,000 up front and then get a 60% print royalty and an 80% e-book royalty on sales. That’s very different from the rates you’re likely to see in a traditional relationship.

So, you’re paying to get services you should pay for anyway if you’re self-publishing. And you’re going through the process with a partner, instead of being out on your own with little to no guidance. You’re also getting national distribution that makes you available to retailers and librarians when and where they want to find your book.

Another consideration: Independent hybrid presses might have particular missions or topical expertise that relate to your subject matter and surround you with like-minded authors. It can be helpful to be part of such a community, and it can make it easier for retailers to get interested in a catalog rather than an individual title.

When you consider hybrid publishing, absolutely vet the publisher and make sure you’re going to get what you’re paying for. The Independent Book Publishers Association has created a set of criteria to ensure you’re working with a publisher that has authors’ best interests at heart and in practice. 

Is hybrid publishing right for you?

  • Can you afford the initial investment required by your publisher?
  • What aspects of publishing are least interesting/most intimidating to you? Would a hybrid relationship take those off your plate?
  • Do you like the idea of having a publisher provide certain services, or would you rather make your way on your own?
  • How important is it for you to be part of a larger, topically/philosophically related catalog?

Conclusion

Whether you choose traditional, self- or hybrid publishing, your decision should be based on your goals and resources—there is no one right decision for every author.

Assess your end game before you get started, so you can plan accordingly in terms of timeline and financial investment.

Above all: Do your homework and prepare to become an entrepreneur. Whichever route you choose, you’re about to become an author, editor, marketer, and salesperson.

The journey can be long—and sometimes frustrating and confusing—but when you’re holding that book in your hands and doing your first signing event, it will be worth the work you’ve done to get there!

Have questions? Email Jennifer Scroggins at jscroggins@kicamprojects.com!

Sanja Kulenovic

Q&A with Author Sanja Kulenovic

Sanja Kulenovic is a Russian-born Bosnian, now an American citizen, who has called Southern California home since the early 1990s, when she was stranded due to the Bosnian War. She studied economics and English language and literature at the University of Sarajevo, where several of her essays and short stories appeared in the university’s magazine. In 1993, she presented a speech at a United Nations-sponsored event for Bosnian women and children. Since then, Sanja has earned a master’s degree in economics and has been working as a financial analyst for an engineering corporation that helped rebuild Bosnia’s infrastructure after the war. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters.

Sanja KulenovicWhat prompted you to write The Siege of Sarajevo and share your family’s personal experiences with readers?

It started about ten years ago, when I found a stack of letters my family and friends wrote to me from the besieged Sarajevo in the 1990s. My children were eleven and eight at the time and had no knowledge of the events that took place in the Balkans then, except that their “grandmas and grandpas lived through a war.” The more I read the letters to them, the more questions they asked, and I realized a had a job to do. I began organizing the letters by years and translating them into English, in the process creating an authentic and a very unique “historical document” intertwined with deep personal notes and my own story of immigrant life in America.

I wanted my daughters and other Bosnian immigrants’ children to learn what had happened in Sarajevo and to their families trapped in the longest siege history remembers. I wanted them to learn by reading the words of those who experienced it, not just history books. I wanted them to remember it and to keep it alive for the next generations to come.

I believe the story of Sarajevo, however unique, is also universal. It will make you laugh, cry, and appreciate ordinary things in life—for you never know when they might be out of your reach.

Which writers and works inspired you to put your own story on paper?

I love reading true stories and learning about other people’s experiences in life. But, for my book, I did not find inspiration in the works of others. This was a very personal endeavor, something I decided to do on my own.

The Siege of SarajevoAs a first-time author, what challenges did you face in your writing process, and how did you overcome them?

For me, the big questions were, Do I know how to write and can I do it in English? It is one thing to talk about your life with a group of close friends, preferably in Bosnian, and entirely different to put it on paper for a wider audience, readers you don’t know, in English. I had constant doubts about the quality of my work and would write, edit, delete, write again—which often felt like moving in circles with no end in sight. To overcome this, I started asking my family and friends to read my work, telling them it was still in early stages, to make them feel more comfortable critiquing it. This helped me gain much-needed confidence in my writing abilities as I realized that most of what I had done was actually decent work, not just “early drafts.”

Writing a book, like any other long-term project, requires persistence. That, to me, is the key, especially for first-time authors, who often embark on a writing journey without a clear plan—at least I did. But I was determined and disciplined. At times when I, for various reasons, could not write, I still thought about the book, researched, translated, sorted things out, and planned next steps. Even though it was ten years in the making, there was never any doubt in my mind that I would finish it.

What advice would you give to other aspiring authors who might be struggling to revisit personal traumas or tragedies?

This is a hard one. There aren’t any rules on this and everyone is different. For me, writing was often like a psychological therapy session, but at other times, it was a difficult and depressing task. The same is true for the readers: Some of my friends who lived through the war told me they could not read my book at all; others read it in one sitting and found it uplifting and positive.

My advice to everyone is to try. I think it can be a powerful healing process, because the primary focus of it is writing, not thinking per se. Even though you are revisiting unpleasant events of your life, you tend to look at them from a somewhat different angle and with an added dimension: how to put it all on paper. That, I found, takes away at least some of the burden.

What has been the most fulfilling part of the writing and publishing process for you?

When I finished the book, I felt more accomplished than ever before. This came as a big surprise to me at first, but I now understand it. Everything I had achieved in my life prior to writing a book, both personally and professionally, I expected of myself. I aspired to do certain things and I did them. But no one, including myself, expected me to write a book. It was not an ordinary thing in life; it was not something “needed,” such as a degree or a job, or something “required,” such as to be a good daughter or a good mother. I feel I have done something big, extraordinary, and I am greatly enjoying it!

What’s the primary takeaway you hope readers get from The Siege of Sarajevo?

Although Sarajevo’s siege was on prime-time news all over the world for years, I feel it has now been largely forgotten. Bosnia is a small country far away, and a new generation was born after the siege ended, more than twenty years ago. My wish, however, is to keep the story of Sarajevo alive, because it is worth telling. The heroism, stoicism, strength, and spirit that carried Sarajevans, my family included, through 1,425 days of siege is unparalleled. The Siege of Sarajevo is proof that “something to live for” is always there and is worth fighting for. I hope everyone who reads my book takes away some of it with them and becomes a little bit stronger in their own life battles.

Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

Q&A with Author Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta is an international author, award-winning journalist, and public speaker who works as an editor and ghostwriter. She is passionate about music, animals, and healthy living—and is just as passionate about living an authentic, bold life. A survivor of bullying, Maryanne wrote Be (Extra)Ordinary: Ten Ways to Become Your Own Hero to help readers embrace their own uniqueness and find the courage to be exactly who they are.

Maryanne Christiano-MistrettaHow have your personal experiences shaped the advice and insights in Be (Extra)Ordinary?

I believe my personal experiences shaped the advice because readers can see how an average person can grow and even make a difference.

What did you learn from writing this book? Did you come to understand your own background any differently or more deeply?

I’ve learned, and continue to learn, that it’s always the best way to be vulnerable and honest. By heart, I am a thinker. I’m always “talking” to myself, always in my head. I’m always trying to learn and better myself. There’s nothing like getting it out on paper to truly validate your feelings, if not in a book, then in a journal. Writing is a beautiful tool we should all take advantage of. (And reading too—and I don’t mean scrolling on your phone!)

People go to spas, gyms, and beaches, but to me, nothing is more relaxing and rejuvenating than being alone with words—whether they are your own or from a book.

Which writers and works inspire your writing?

My favorite writer of all time is Mark Twain. Not for his famous Adventures of Huckleberry Finn but rather his later, more esoteric work, Letters from the Earth. Prior to her death, Twain’s wife would censor her husband’s work so Twain would not embarrass himself. Letters from the Earth was written after his wife’s death, so all hell broke loose. The book is radical, which inspires me. Anything that goes against the grain motivates me.

Another favorite is The Christmas Pig by Kinky Friedman. The book has twenty-three chapters. It’s my personal tradition to reread the book every year, beginning December 1. I read one chapter per night, leading up to the eve of Christmas Eve. The book is beautiful and sensitive yet witty and badass. It’s rebellious in a most thoughtful way. It will bring tears to your eyes, while at the same time, you’ll be cheering, “YES!”

People are always asking me what I’m currently reading. Most likely I’ll be rereading either of these highly inspirational books.

Be ExtraordinaryWhat do you think makes a truly meaningful and memorable self-help book?

Anything written with confidence. Anything that is a bit rebellious. Anything that is brutally honest. While they are not classified as self-help books, I love to read memoirs that present heavy-duty struggles the author had to overcome. Rock stars are a perfect example. Stick It: My Life of Sex, Drums, and Rock ’n’ Roll by Carmine Appice or Neon Angel by Cherie Currie were great reads because the writers were honest and vulnerable—and result with great growth at the end.

What has been the most fulfilling part of the writing and publishing process for you?

I write so much. I need to write like I need to breathe. When I write, I forget everything: time, problems, drinking, going to the bathroom. I stop only when I want to eat. Sometimes my handsome husband will come up behind me. I look over and smile. He’ll say, “I just want to sneak in a kiss.” It makes my day. It’s a beautiful way to live.

For this project, I must say, with a tear of joy in my eye, that working directly/hands on with editor Jennifer Scroggins has been an amazing experience. Teaming up with Jennifer has been a work marriage made in heaven!

What do you think makes someone extraordinary? How do you define that term?

I’m always about the person who sets themselves apart from the crowd. Someone who isn’t afraid to speak his/her mind. Someone who doesn’t care what others think. Someone who is true to himself or herself. A person who thinks “gray,” not black and white. Someone who has overcome challenges, whether it’s poverty, illness, being bullied, being raped, mental disabilities, handicaps … Those are the people who are the true inspirations. An evolved person knows what to do with the cards dealt to her or him.

What’s the primary takeaway you hope readers get from Be (Extra)Ordinary?

To not be afraid to be themselves. To step out of their comfort zone. And to be sensitive toward others who are different then they are.

Jessica Baker

Q&A with Author Jessica K. Baker

Jessica K. Baker drew upon her personal experiences with loved ones battling addiction as she wrote her first book, Opiate Jane. Jessica also spent five years working in the addiction field as a counseling assistant and a social work assistant. Here she discusses how and why she wrote Opiate Jane as a YA novel and what she hopes readers will take away from her work.

Jessica BakerWhat prompted you to write Opiate Jane?

I had been working in the addiction field for about five years. I left that field when I got to the point that I felt frustrated that even though it was my profession to help, I could not help the ones I loved. I needed to get those feelings and frustrations out. They came out in Opiate Jane. Jane had the courage to do and say the things I could not. I could not be prouder of her, and I am thankful that creating her left a piece of her in me. She changed my life. My hope is she will change others’ lives as well.

Why did you choose to use fiction as the format for sharing parts of your personal experience with addicted loved ones?

I chose the format of fiction because I have never been good at talking about myself or my feelings. It was easy with Jane; she wasn’t me. A lot of the book is fiction—I was never in foster care and my mother was a wonderful mother when I was a child. I wanted to write a YA novel and still wanted to let out the feelings I was going through as an adult. That seemed to be the best fit. Jane and her mother’s relationship is the secondary addiction relationship in Opiate Jane. The majority of the feelings poured into this book were into Jane’s feelings about Landon, those feelings I was living with and conflicted with every day. When you love someone who has an addiction, you are always wondering if you’re doing too much and enabling them or if you’re not doing enough to help them. That fear of what can happen if you don’t do enough is a horrible place to live.

Which writers and works inspired your writing?

I had fallen in love with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. It made me realize there was more to life than just surviving and that I wanted more. I needed more. I wanted to write a love story that fought against all odds and won. I wanted my female character to be strong and fear nothing. I wanted her to do what I felt like I could not.

I also was very much inspired by Blue October. As crazy as it sounds, Justin Furstenfeld has been singing about my life for over ten years. Every new album seems to have so much of what I am feeling. One song in particular had the most impact on Opiate Jane: “Should Be Loved.” Blue October’s music is filled with so much emotion. It is an honor to listen to it. It has helped me through a lot.

Opiate JaneAs a first-time author, what challenges did you face in your writing process, and how did you overcome them?

I had never tried to write anything before. It was quite the challenge to bring Jane’s story to life. I took me almost a year. I wrote in sporadic pieces and then put them together. The middle came before the beginning. I wrote what I felt and tried to apply the best situation to it. The biggest challenge for me was sharing it. Did I want people to read about my feelings? Would anyone like it? Would it help anyone else the way it helped me? I had to just overcome my fear and share Jane’s story. To my surprise, it has been well received.

What advice would you give to other aspiring authors who might be struggling to revisit personal traumas or tragedies?

Let it out. It feels so much better to let it out. Especially when dealing with addiction. It is so stigmatized. Society not only shames the addict but also shames the people who love them simply because they love them. After writing Opiate Jane, I joined a group called Solace Clermont. It was a breath of fresh air to be around people going through and dealing with similar situations. Never think you are alone; there are people who are going through the same feelings you are. Seek them out. I also sought out counseling, which also carries a stigma. At that point, I didn’t care about stigma or shame anymore. I didn’t need counseling long, but it helped me tremendously. The counselor told me something that has stuck with me for years. She said that I was mucking through the mud with everyone else’s rocks in my boots. Here I am, six years later, and the only rocks in my boots are mine.

What’s the primary takeaway you hope readers get from Opiate Jane?

I hope anyone who reads Opiate Jane gets the courage to do what they need to do and it helps them become stronger in their situation. I hope they realize they are not alone.

Peter Bowling Anderson

Q&A with Author Peter Bowling Anderson

Peter Bowling Anderson has a master’s degree in communications/writing from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, an M.A. in teaching from Centenary College, and a special education certification from LSU Shreveport. His writing has appeared in a variety of publications, but perhaps his most important work experience came as a tutor and assistant for Richard Herrin, a man with cerebral palsy who unexpectedly became Peter’s friend, mentor, teacher, and inspiration. Life at 8 mph: How a Man with Cerebral Palsy Taught Me the Secret to Happiness is Peter’s account of an extraordinary friendship and the joys that can be found by saying yes to the unknown.

What prompted you to write your memoir and share your personal experiences with readers?

It was an idea I’d toyed with for several years since my time ended with Richard. I thought our time together would make a good inspirational tale, but I was involved in other projects. Then I got married, and then we had our son, Henry, so it kept getting pushed to the back burner. … An opportunity finally arose in 2017 to tackle it, and though it had been five years since we’d worked together, I was lucky enough to have the support and endless patience of Richard and his wife, Della, who answered all of my many, many questions to fill in the gaps and sweep away the cobwebs as I wrote the book. I knew Richard and I had experienced enough hilarious and poignant moments that it would make an entertaining tale if I could just get it down on paper, and thankfully, I finally did.

Which writers and works inspired you to put your own story on paper? Who has influenced your writing style?

My favorite authors are Richard Ford and Cormac McCarthy. They both write literary fiction about the “blue-collar” world. Ford’s stories are primarily set in the North, McCarthy’s in the South. Their writing is profoundly insightful, the type of prose I can reread several times and still learn new things. They mix in humor, too, which I think is important and I try to do. Annie Dillard, Norman Maclean, and Richard Russo are three other authors I love, as well as Anne Tyler. I like authors with a good ear for dialogue, a great sense of humor, and a keen sense of why people react the way they do in certain situations. Richard Ford once said in an interview that he wasn’t interested in the crisis but in how people reacted to the crisis, because that was the most informative aspect. I agree. I hope my book makes people think about how they might react, or have reacted in the past, in certain situations with someone with a physical challenge, and what they can glean from it.

What makes a great memoir? What advice would you give to other aspiring authors who might be struggling to get started with a memoir?

Two things I’ve noticed in effective memoirs are transparency and pace. In Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, or Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, or Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, they all keep the story moving. There’s no indulgent, laborious fixation on a particular passage of time. These authors all understood that, while their stories were fascinating in different ways, they were still their stories, and to keep readers intrigued, they needed to keep the action moving forward. Everyone has a story to tell, but if you want anyone to listen to the whole thing, you better keep it moving. I tried to do that, as well as to be transparent and not hold anything back, as these authors did. I believe the reader can tell when a writer is being authentic and unguarded or writing merely to impress. Candor seems to be the most memorable approach.

life at 8mphWhat challenges did you face in creating memorable scenes that seamlessly brought together multiple storylines?

I’d written another memoir a few years earlier about the ten dogs we had in our home while I was growing up. There were lots of humorous stories, but one thing I noticed when it was finished was that it tended to feel a bit too anecdotal, with just one story followed by another unrelated story. The only common thread was that all the stories concerned the dogs. So with this memoir, I wanted the story to have a definitive narrative arc, which, thankfully, it did naturally all on its own. When I took the job working with Richard, it was the last job I wanted and I thought I’d hate it. Later, I began warming up to him and to the job, and by the end of the book it turned out to be the best position I ever had. This memoir goes from Point A to Point B to Point C, rather than being just a series of stories. I think having that arc helps it flow more smoothly and keeps all of our experiences connected.

Your writing style is both earnest and humorous. How did you strike that balance?

Lots of practice, and years of bad writing. I began writing at nineteen, and my first attempts tended to err on the mawkish side. I wanted so desperately to move people that I went overboard and made it melodramatic. It took me a while to rein it in, and in particular, to learn the valuable lesson that it’s much easier to touch people if I’ve already made them laugh. When a writer can make the reader laugh, it establishes a bond, or acceptance, that then allows poignancy a much easier path. I think of it as a relationship between two friends—if they’ve already bonded over good times, they’ll be more likely to lower their emotional guards when it’s time for serious discussions.

What has been the most fulfilling part of the writing and publishing process for you?

On the writing end, it was extremely fulfilling to finally get Richard’s story down on paper. I’d told him years ago that I would one day write a book about our time together, so the guilt had weighed on me rather heavily as the years passed. Plus, I thought people would benefit from reading the story, so I wanted to get it done. … To have Richard’s story finally cross the ultimate finish line to be published so the public can read it is as satisfying as anything I’ve ever accomplished.

What’s the primary takeaway you hope readers get from Life at 8 mph?

I want readers to remember that people with injuries, illnesses, physical challenges, etc., still have many valuable things to offer. Just because they’re restricted in some way doesn’t mean they’re incapable of blessing our lives. In fact, their unique situation often offers them a specific perspective that allows them insight we simply don’t, or can’t, see. It behooves us to take the time to listen to what they have to say. Also, I hope readers pay attention to the fact that working with Richard was the last thing I wanted to do, yet it turned out to be the best job I ever had. Way too often, we decide what will work for us or be beneficial for us before we’ve even given it a try, and we end up missing out on so many wonderful experiences that would allow us to grow in immeasurable ways. In fact, as I look back at my life, almost every time I was certain I didn’t want to do something because I wouldn’t like it but then I finally did it anyway, it wound up being the perfect choice and I was fortunate and grateful I took a chance. Opportunities don’t always come packaged the way we’d envisioned, but we need to open them anyway, like all gifts, before tossing them out. There might be fine diamonds stuffed in those socks. 

Aimee Ross

Author Post: My Scars Are My Veins of Gold

Aimee RossAimee Ross is a nationally award-winning educator who has been a high school English teacher for the past twenty-five years and who published Permanent Marker: A Memoir in 2018. She completed her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction Writing at Ashland University in 2014, and her writing has been published on lifein10minutes.com and SixHens.com, as well as in Beauty around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia, Scars: An Anthology, Today I Made a Difference: A Collection of Inspirational Stories from America’s Top Educators, and Teaching Tolerance magazine.

My Scars Are My Veins of Gold

Scars: marks left on the skin or within body tissue where fibrous connective tissue develops to connect, support, and bind as a wound heals. Scars can fade, be covered up or even be surgically altered, but they can never go away.

They remember.

Scar Tissue

I can count more than ten scars all over my body from that night.

(The ones I can see, I mean.)

Some are short, some are long, and some are ugly. The back of my left arm looks like Dr. Frankenstein stitched it together, my foot has permanent weird lumps and a raised center that makes wearing shoes difficult, and my belly, well, I hated the monstrous, gaping scar that ran its length. Doctors had to put me back together—literally. They told me so.

Strangely, most of the scars are also vertical.

At right angles to a horizontal plane. Perpendicular.

The same angle at which we collided when he ran that stop sign and into my car, T-boning it and me. We were on our way home from dance camp that July evening. The three girls in my car escaped the wreck with minor injuries—thankfully. I barely survived. He died.

Four months later, a highway patrolman visited to share the other driver’s toxicology report and to inform me of my rights as a “victim of a crime.” He came to bring me “some peace of mind.”

It didn’t work.

A young man of only nineteen years got into a car with two different drugs in his body. He caused a tragic wreck and lost his life. He forever changed mine. (Cause for the scars I can’t see.)

And all of my scars, both physical and emotional, tell a story of survival, one in which I found out how truly resilient the human body and spirit can be.

Kintsugi as Metaphor

One day in my classroom, Kaitlyn, a senior a month from graduation, told me to look up Japanese art called “kint”-something. I was amazed.

Permanent MarkerKintsugi: a Japanese word that means “golden joinery.” It originated in the fifteenth century when a Japanese shogun broke his favorite bowl and tried to have it repaired by sending it back to China. Metal staples were used, which displeased the shogun, so he hired Japanese craftsmen to find a better answer. Their solution? Reparation of the breakage with seams of gold—kintsugi. Thus, the piece became more valuable than before it broke.

More beautiful. An art form.

Maybe it was time to embrace my scars. And maybe my breakage could become a part of my history, making me more valuable, rather than causing embarrassment or avoidance or erasure from memory. Maybe, like that broken bowl, I could be better than new. Perhaps an even more beautiful version of who I’d been.

I liked that.

Illumination

It’s been eight years since the accident—enough time to no longer be defined by the experience, though it will forever mark me. Enough time to not notice my scars anymore. They are simply a part of my body’s canvas now, a part of who I am. I might even be proud of them.

“We had to have them do that,” my brother once said, pointing to my abdomen, where the worst, most noticeable scar was, “to be able to have you here now.”

That.

At the time, a way inside. A way to save my life.

My scars—the physical and the emotional—are marks of resilience and endurance. They demonstrate a strength of spirit and a willingness to fight that I never knew I had. I survived. I did it.

And not only am I stronger because of them, someone loves me in spite of them.

My new, loving husband, Jackson, didn’t know me before the accident. He accepted and embraced my flaws, and it’s meant all the difference. This new, fuller life of love and energy post-accident shows in my very being. So many people still tell me how happy I look and that I “glow,” especially around Jackson.

But I think it’s just the veins of gold running through me.