Category: Clients Crushin’ It

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Clients Crushin’ It: Carla Albano

Madison Utley speaks to Carla Albano upon the release of her first book, Soul of A Swimmer, in which she tells the true story of Nicholas Dworet, a champion swimmer from Florida whose life was tragically cut short in a school shooting. While Carla first heard Nick’s name in relation to the devastating news, it became clear there was a much more complex story to tell about the young man’s life and legacy after speaking to his family, friends, coaches, and teammates. In this book, Carla describes the lifelong process of nurturing a child who has extraordinary talent and the drive to put it to its best use. 

 

 

Q: How was it that you ended up involved in getting Nick’s story onto paper?

A: The project is a little unorthodox, I know. When Nick passed away, I had just restarted my swimming career. Swimmers are all connected by a love of water; there’s a real community there. And so faced with the fact that we lost one of our ownmeaning a fish, a swimmerI felt like I needed to do something positive, as part of our community grieving and as part of my own grieving. 

Initially, I decided I wanted to write an application for Nick to be admitted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, but as I started to compile what I needed for that, I got to know his coaches and all these other people in his life. It wasn’t long before I realized: “Holy cow, this is bigger than an application. This is such a great story.” The more I learned about Nick, the more inspired I felt to write a book. I was exhausted by hearing about all of the bad things about mass shootings and body counts, but never knowing anything about who these people we lost are. And so, I decided I wanted to write a biography of this boy who was a champion swimmer, and one of my kind. 

Q: How did your previous experience prepare you for this endeavor? 

A: During this process, I was able to call upon my own experience growing up as a swimmer while interviewing Nick’s friends, teammates, and coaches. I feel like that gave me instant rapport with the subjects who in turn gave me the material I used in the book. I even went on swims with some of them after the interviews were over, which was really bonding.  

As for the writing itself: good swimmers know that they need to have a good coach, so I started with Stuart from the very, very beginning. Given that it’s my first book, I had no perspective on how to structure my thinking or how to put the material together. Stuart was amazing from the start; he didn’t tell me what to do or how to write, but instead he helped direct my voice through this process and guided me towards where I needed to go next. We had a lot of dots to connect and I’m so grateful to Stuart for helping me with that. I wouldn’t have been able to get the message straight or tell the story the way it needed to be told without him. 

Q: Tell me more about your experience interviewing the people in Nick’s life. 

A: I believe this project was very healing. For many of the young adults that I interviewed, Nick’s friends and teammates, this was the first opportunity they were given to speak about him in a positive way, outside of the circumstances of his death. So it was a hard process, but one they thanked me for. They shared a lot of really intimate stories with mesuch great, happy stories. And that’s what I wanted to focus on, the bright and the good; I felt it was my mission to keep this boy alive.

Throughout the process of writing this book, I started to think our community is scarce on mental health/counseling resources. It seems people might not get the outreach they need to be guided towards help, so it was special to be part of this process. I’m actually still in contact with a lot of the kids that I interviewed. They’ve become part of my life and vice versa. They view me as a safe person to share their grief with.

Q: Who do you view as the primary audience for this book? 

A: Swimmers of all ages, young adult athletes, parents of athletes… The story is about how to cultivate and nourish a talented child, whether they are academically or athletically gifted. This book describes the process of identifying talent and helping encourage young people to get motivated and push towards their dreams. I truly hope that readers are shown what a family and what a community needs to do when they are entrusted with a talented child. 

Clients Crushin’ It: Windy Lynn Harris

Windy Lynn Harris does it all. She writes, she edits, she gets published regularly and, better yet, she helps others do the same. And that is why it is no surprise that her book, Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published, is celebrating its fourth publication anniversary with a new printing! It has reached thousands of writers over the years and helped them market their short writing effectively, and now that goodness goes on.

Earlier this month, Madison Utley sat down with Windy to discuss her book’s journey including the origin of the project, how she got it over the finish line, and what it has meant for both its readers and her career.

 

Q: Talk to me about the conception of this project. 

A: The idea actually came from my friendship with Stuart—which, believe it or not, began on LinkedIn. I had read a copy of Blueprint Your Bestseller, his first book, and thought: “Wow, this is really useful.” So when his name popped up as a suggested connection on LinkedIn, I sent him a note that said: “Hey, I just read your book and it was great.” He wrote me back saying, “That’s very nice for you to say. Would you be willing to fill out a survey about it? I’m actually working on book two now and I’d appreciate your insight.” Little did I know that Stuart and I would go on to become critique partners for life. 

But at some point in there, Stuart said to me, “You help people get published all the time. You’ve done so many talks on this. It feels like a big enough idea to be a book.” I wasn’t sure, but he pushed me to write down a table of contents to see if I had enough material. I came up with an outline that was 30 pages long. When I sent it over, he was like, “So yeah, this is a book.” Stuart said he would help me figure it out, and that my next assignment was to actually write some chapters. 

Q: Once you decided to go for it, what did the writing and publishing process look like?

Stuart essentially walked me through the entire process I had read about in Blueprint Your Bestseller to figure out what I was really talking about and what order it should go in. When I was finished with the material, Stuart told me he had a relationship with a certain publisher and asked if I wanted him to make a connection for me. I was like, “Of course!” He did that, and I sold the book. I didn’t have to show it to anyone else. I didn’t have to get an agent. So I think part of success can just be that you’ve got to be in the room. Be a literary citizen. Make connections. When you have a question, ask it. 

As writers, I think we need to be able to recognize when we meet somebody we click with and say, “I understand you’re looking at the world of writing or stories in the same way as me. I think we have something in common. I could use your help and you could use mine.” You have to find your tribe in that way. You need trusted readers to give you the honest feedback that you need to hear. 

Q: Did you think about giving up at any point during this time? 

A: Absolutelyand that came out of fear. It wasn’t because I didn’t have enough material. I worried, “There’s not a lot of value to this. Anybody could figure out how to do it if they took 20 hours of research time. Why would they pay me to consolidate it?” I had to come around and say, “Because they don’t want to take that time. They want to go to one resource and find out exactly how you do this.” It took a while to realize I had a new package to offer that wasn’t somewhere else on the shelf out there, and that it was going to save writers’ time. 

Q: What kinds of responses have you gotten over the past four years? 

A: The response has largely been, “I didn’t realize how easy it was to get my work out there.” It’s really surprising how quickly writers get published once they have the path opened to them. Truly, we can all find the right place for our work. Getting a book published can be like a salmon swimming upstream, yes, but the world of writing short stories and poems and personal essays is completely different. With shorter works, we handle our own projects. And if you market your polished work, you can get it published. It’s just that simple. 

 

Q: What has the publication of this book done for your career?

A: Immediately, it gave me a fantastic platform to meet more people. The credibility of having a published book beside me made it easier to market myself and suddenly doors opened without me even having to ask. It was a complete 180 from me raising my hand above my head to having to turn opportunities down because I was all booked up. 

Q: How do you see your business evolving into the future?

A: My business model is currently changing a bit; I’m doing less traveling and more editing, which is exactly what I eventually wanted to happen. I’m making less time for speaking engagements because my favorite thing to do is the editing work with short story and essay writers, and I have a waitlist of those clients. It seems there are enough of my books out there in the world that people are finding me organically and through word of mouth. 

I’ve also partnered with my author friend Susan Pohlman to host an annual writing retreat. We did our very first last month and it was absolutely wonderful; that’s going to become a focus in the future. We had 14 short story, essay, memoir, and novel writers all together at a lakehouse in Pennsylvania. The retreat provides a getaway for writers to have some relaxation and writing time, but it also facilitates extensive craft discussion and practice, like an MFA course crammed into a long weekend. With our combined experience, Susan and I feel sure we can figure out how to get any project published no matter what it is. And if we don’t know an answer, we’re confident we know somebody who does. And finally, the retreat is a chance to connect with other writers. Like I’ve said from the start of our talk, cultivating community and finding appropriate critique partners is just so important.

Clients Crushin’ It: Beth Monaghan & InkHouse

Madison Utley speaks to InkHouse PR founder & CEO Beth Monaghan following the release of Aren’t We Lucky? — the company’s second collection of employee-authored stories, and fourth content project supported by Book Architecture. 

Q: How did you arrive at the idea of creating a company book, and why did it seem like the most fitting way to deepen the culture you’ve been cultivating at InkHouse?

A: The books evolved out of the Inkies, a Moth or TED Talk style event we used to do with Book Architecture. We wanted to design a creative outlet for our people to hone their skills in storytelling, writing, and presenting — things we do for a living. But at the first Inkies at the Old South Church in Boston, something magical happened: we all felt so much more deeply connected, including the people who didn’t present. 

My sole regret was that we only got to hear five or so people’s stories. A live event naturally constrains the number of participants. Plus, there’s that heart-stopping fear of spilling your guts in front of coworkers with no notes to guide you. So the first book of essays was hatched. I was expecting ten to fifteen essay submissions, but we got 44! 

Q: What about the experience of creating the first collection of essays, Hindsight 2020, encouraged you to produce Aren’t We Lucky?

I watched Hindsight 2020 change our people, and it also changed me. Who doesn’t want to do that again? In the fall of 2019, I set aside three days to read all of the Hindsight 2020 submissions. Candidly, I was expecting to have to haul myself through them, but as I read, I was swept up. 

Those essays shed my previously unconscious belief that the best stories are at the library or at the bookstore. They’re not. You just need to ask the person sitting next to you, but we rarely do. And I thought — this is how we get to understand each other and draw nearer. This is how community forms. It also helped that so many InkHouse people told me it was their favorite event of the year.

Q: On the employee side, writing a personal essay knowing it will be disseminated to your coworkers and beyond requires emotional vulnerability and, frankly, a specific kind of hard work. Yet it seems that the InkHouse team has been thrilled to embrace the challenge many times over. Why do you think that is?

I believe that each of us have a few stories we’ve been burning to tell. The telling gives us a chance to be seen in an environment that’s rooting for you. But it’s freaking terrifying. I can feel the presenters’ nerves each time. Hell, I’m nervous! Then I see them become their whole selves as they read their work. And then their co-workers are crying or laughing and clapping. The look of pride on their faces is something I will always carry with me.

Q: From the leadership side, it seems that significant company resources must go into large-scale culture building initiatives such as these books. Why is that worth it?

A: When people ask me what I like most about my job, I always say it’s these projects. I feel slightly embarrassed every time—I should say PR because that’s what pays the bills. But these efforts are part of how we build understanding and community. Without both of those things, the PR work doesn’t get done well. 

We have more than 130 people who work here and it’s so hard for me to get to know each one individually. Projects such as these allow me to get to know so many of our people in a way no work assignment can. It helps me understand them as human beings, which helps me better know what our workplace needs. 

Q: Beyond the baseline benefit of making employees’ day to day lives tolerable, why does investing in a workplace culture that allows people to be their best and truest selves matter? And what is the value of capturing that in book form? 

A: I’ve spent many years fighting for social justice around gender and race. The problems are so big that it can feel like nothing we do is enough to solve them. And it’s not. However, if we do the thing that’s right in front of us, and then the next thing, and then the next, we can collectively begin to make change.

As I see it, part of my responsibility to that change is creating a workplace that values differences in the creative process at work. This requires us to welcome employees as they are. We can’t do that if we don’t understand each other. We have to actually talk. Our books are the most important way we do that at InkHouse. 

Clients Crushin’ It: Elizabeth de Veer

Madison Utley speaks to Elizabeth de Veer ahead of the release of her first published novel, The Ocean in Winter, about the power of persistence and —perhaps, more importantly— how she refused to let the tumult of finding an agent or publisher put a dent in her love of writing.

 

Q: When did writing start to become a more significant part of your life?

A: In 2003, I decided to start taking writing seriously. Until then, I had jobs that weren’t just full-time jobs, but were all-the-time jobs. I’d be in the office until 9 or 10 o’clock five days a week, and come in on the weekends as well. I knew I needed a job with less responsibility, where they respected that I’d get the job done, but also that I had this other role in my life as a writer. I ended up in a great situation where I worked full-time a few days a week, and then had a few days I could just write. That’s how I got through my first novel, which is about the Dust Bowl. That’s where the journey began.

Q: Tell me about that journey. 

A: By the time I finished my second novel, I had been looking for an agent for years. Many agents were interested and wanted to see the full manuscript, but nobody was ready to go forward. At some point during that period, I had posted my first novel in its entirety on this website where other writers could read it and leave feedback and many left really encouraging comments. My husband saw them and he was amazed at how many people liked my book. He took to the Internet and ended up finding a new agent who agreed to read my manuscript. One thing led to another and I ended up signing with him, which was really exciting.

Q: Did that feel like a turning point?

A: Absolutely. It was great having someone in my life who believed in me as a writer. Unfortunately, though, we didn’t find a publisher for my first and second novels. Then, I went back to a project I had been working on before my daughter was born. I looked at the first couple of pages and realized I needed to start over. It takes courage to say, “Don’t try to fix this. Think about what you love here, and take those pieces and use them to plant a new garden.” So, I started afresh. My daughter was in preschool twice a week then, so I’d go to a cafe to write those two days. But so much time passed between those writing sessions, I’d spend most of my time flipping through what I had written before. I’d end up spending these incredibly precious, brief periods of time trying to remember basic things like my character’s names. After a while, I realized writing every day, even if it’s only for ten minutes, helps you remember what your ideas were yesterday and then when you do have more time, you know what your intention is. That way, you get to sink your teeth into the questions that mean more.

Q: When did Stuart enter into this process?

A: I finally got that third manuscript done and I gave it to my agent; he shopped it around but it still wasn’t quite there. That’s when I worked with Stuart. He got me thinking about things on such a different level. It’s incredible, the power of having somebody smart read something, somebody who gets what you’re trying to do and understands the impact you’re trying to have. The feedback he gave was so helpful. He was able to explain things to me and bring certain ideas forward in my consciousness.

Q: From there, how did things come together with Blackstone Publishing?

A: Someone said yes! I have been really thrilled to work with the great team at Blackstone. And now I am very excited that my book will be coming out this summer.

Q: What pushed you to keep writing through the years, even when you weren’t finding the traction you were looking for with your completed manuscripts?

A: I truly love writing. My advice? Even if you do get published, it still has to be about love. You have to be ready to write your truth, whatever form that comes in. Even if it doesn’t make sense to anybody else, you have to be willing to put yourself and your writing out there. You have to be brave about being creative and brave about being self-critical. And to know when one is needed and when the other should take a back seat. I felt a tremendous amount of freedom, and still do, with having a day job so my writing doesn’t have the responsibility of paying the mortgage. My writing can be whatever I need it to be. Sometimes it’s frustrating because time is an issue. But writing is the thing that makes me feel like I am the person I am. If you find the thing that makes you feel that way, it only makes sense to organize your life around it.

Q: What is your main takeaway from having been writing in earnest for nearly 20 years now?

A: Writing in any form, even if you’re not focusing on one project, should make you feel like you’re five years old, playing in the sandbox. You know how you could spend hours pouring the sand through your fingers, sitting in the moment and daydreaming about the world? It’s magical that when the sand is dry it’s one way and when it’s wet you can build castles out of it. And then you can smoosh those castles and start over. That’s how you should feel when you’re writing. Of course, it isn’t always like that. Sometimes it can be so discouraging after you’ve had another rejection, but creativity should bring you joy. I want everybody to find a way to feel that way: climb into the sandbox, play with the sand, have fun, and find that joy. Isn’t that what it’s all about?