by Jerry Waxler
Author of Memoir Revolution: Write Your Story, Change the World.
This is part 3 of the interview. Click here to read Part 1.
In her memoir, “Again in a Heartbeat,” author Susan Weidener tells about the life and death of her relationship to her husband. In this part of this interview I ask her about her writing voice, and the choices and rewards of publishing.
Jerry Waxler: You started as a journalist. Journalism tends to require an impersonal voice. And then you evolved into a memoirist which requires a storytelling voice. Was that a difficult transformation? What sort of effort, training, stylistic transitions did you have to take to go from writing about other people to writing a story about yourself.
Susan Weidener: Great question. As a journalist I had to stay objective and behind the scenes. Writing memoir was a huge reversal in that regard and felt uncomfortable at first. But newspaper work taught me the economy of words which is very useful when writing a book. As a journalist, I was trained to observe people, to capture details, meaningful quotes; to look “for the story.” At the paper, I interviewed a lot of people and wrote profiles. I had to distill the interview, make the piece engaging; a “good read,” as we call it in the business. In that sense there is not a lot of difference between journalism and writing a book.
I read a lot, study other writers’ techniques. One of my favorite books is Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast. I loved how he handled writing memoir, so clear, such an astute observer of life and those around him, yet he was in the story and you felt you knew the man when you finished the book. Of course, he was a journalist too!
Jerry Waxler: When you finished and published your memoir, did you feel it was worth the effort? When you look back through the whole experience of writing and publishing, what was the most rewarding aspect?
Susan Weidener: Yes! It’s been one of the most rewarding journeys of my life. What a thrill to hold a book in hand, share it with others, talk about it at libraries and signings. The most rewarding aspect without a doubt has been the people I’ve met because of the book. The connections and the conversations have been extraordinary.
Jerry Waxler: Until a few years ago, landing a publishing deal was a long, competitive road. Many authors feared they would never make it to the finish line so why even start? Now, with self-publishing options, the barriers have been lowered, and anyone who wants to share their story can do so. So how did you puzzle that choice out for yourself? What agony or factors went into your publishing choice?
Susan Weidener: For me, it was fairly simple. I know a lot of writers and I had heard some pretty horrible stories. People waited for years, their work languishing, never seeing the light of day. One author had a well-known literary agent, but she couldn’t sell his manuscripts. Another told me he had a traditional publisher, and they virtually did nothing to promote his book. He barely broke even after years of research and work.
I already had more than 2,000 bylines published in the Inquirer, and that didn’t include my published stories in several weeklies and dailies before that. So I did not need validation, if you know what I mean. I was intrigued by self-publishing. It is very exciting. You own the copyright to your work; royalties are a lot higher than through a traditional publisher because you take the risk. As a deadline-oriented person, I felt it was crucial to know the book would be published and not get stuffed in a drawer. I also wanted the book as a way to encourage others to think about writing their stories by offering workshops and retreats, to work with both non-fiction and fiction writers as their editor. My book was instrumental in that. So for me, it was not just about book sales, but having a book as a “calling card” for other endeavors associated with writing and earning a living.
Jerry Waxler: How has that worked out? How do you feel about the results?
Susan Weidener: Reviews of self-published books are hard to come by and Barnes and Noble won’t stock self-published books in their stores because of a corporate policy. You have to do all your own marketing, but you would do that in any case, even if you go with a traditional publisher. In essence, you have to become very entrepreneurial which means mastering social networking, blogging, building a platform. For me, that platform is the Women’s Writing Circle because it keeps me active in the community and on the Internet.
The main challenge is getting the word out about your book; that and not letting your creativity go by the wayside because you are so caught up in marketing you don’t work on your writing. There is a momentum you hope builds. Interviews like this are wonderful as a way to introduce potential readers to my book, which is for sale as a paperback on Amazon and through numerous distributors, and as an eBook on Kindle.
Click here for Part 2, in which I ask questions about writing the memoir
Click here for Part 4, in which Susan talks about her workshops
Click here for a link to the Amazon page for Again in a Heartbeat
Click here for Susan Weidener’s Home Page.
For brief descriptions and links to all the posts on Memory Writers Network, click here.
To order my book Memoir Revolution about the powerful trend to create, connect, and learn, see the Amazon page for eBook or Paperback.
To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.
Pingback: Interview with Susan Weidener About Writing Her Memoir Pt 2 | Memory Writers Network
As a fellow indie-published author, I agree that it’s been a very rewarding journey, learning new skills and opening new doors. Even those who do not make money on their self-publishing endeavors can find reward in the pride of accomplishment through learning and perseverence and doing it all on their own. Beats waiting through ten years of rejections.
Perhaps authors (like me!) who publish with small presses don’t “need” validation but like the feedback and expertise of professionals in the field who act as knowledgeable gatekeepers. For me, it meant someone thought she could make money from my work. That was my validation. Needed? Maybe not. Wanted? You bet.
Jerry, your “spot-on” leading questions provided wonderful, reaffirming information from Susan. Never give up, never give up, never give up. Thanks for your great blog and interesting interviews.
I understand the powerful gift that you have given others. After working with Susan as my writing coach for over a year, my writing skills improved over 300%. The beauty of that is the empowering way that she worked with me and motivated me to learn and grow, My decision from the beginning was to be open and listen to her.
I also found that in the end I have a book that is worthy of readers, a book that they will enjoy reading.
The most important thing about that experience is seeing my book through the readers’ eyes. Writing is not about the writer it is about bringing a compelling story to the reader.
I could not have accomplished that without Susan’s help. She is an amazing writing coach. Soon we will begin work on my second novel and I look forward to that new journey. You see, Susan is the best of the best.
I hear where you are coming from. I have to say, however, that my memoir was edited by seasoned professionals who felt the story was powerful. They may not work for the “literary establishment,” but they were, and are, excellent writers and editors in their own right. I encourage all self-published authors not to cut corners on editing. It is invaluable. I think, too, that rejection by the “gatekeepers” – often based purely on monetary considerations and not always with the quality and caliber of the work (at least from what I hear) – can dampen – often irreparably – the enthusiasm of new and unknown authors.
In many ways, self-publishing is the great equalizer and I, for one, love that the “gatekeepers” no longer have the final word on whether a book sees the light of day.
I enjoyed this interview immensely. Thanks for good Q’s and A’s. I too have gone with a small press for many of the same reasons Susan cites in her decision to go the self-publishing plus professional editing route. I did not want to wait forever. And I actually enjoy building a platform as I write. My daughter is a social media strategist and has helped me a lot.
I’m off to check out the books and websites of the people above. I love the new look of your blog, Jerry. It’s been too long since I visited!