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Fab Four: Advice for First-Time Book Authors


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The Urban Muse by SusanEJohnston

Last week’s Fab Four feature offered expert tips for conducting interviews. This week’s topic? Penning your first book.
I sent the following questions to several authors I admire:

If you could jump in a time machine, what advice would you give to your younger self while you were working on your first book? Is there anything you would change about the process? What wisdom would you impart to other first-time book authors?

Here’s what they had to say:
Ruth Pennebaker: I’m not sure I’d change the writing of my first book, but I’m positive I’d change my expectations about it. The book was Stork Realities: What No One Ever Tells You About Pregnancy, a humor book about pregnancy, which I wrote with co-author Libby Wilson in 1985. I was 99.9% positive we were both about to become famous and rich with the book. I’d try to calm down my younger, more frantic self by telling her most careers aren’t made with a single first book. Or even a second. I’d also try to convince her what a crapshoot both writing and publishing are. You have to love what you’re doing and be in it for the long haul.

Ruth Pennebaker is the author, most recently, of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough, a novel about three generations of women living under one very small roof. Her Fabulous Geezersisters blog, was named a finalist for Best Writing in a Weblog in the 2011 Bloggies and she writes a monthly column for the Texas Observer. Since she’d older and calmer than she was as a first-time author, she tries to take deep breaths and keep her expectations low when she has a new book coming out.

Brette Sember: I would tell myself to ask for more money! I took what was offered because I didn’t know better. It also was a situation where I was asked to take a book about divorce in Florida and alter it to fit NY law, so the FL author was listed as co-author and got half the royalties. That was a mistake, but again, I didn’t know better. I was able to get that rectified in later editions. I wrote that book with a 6 month old baby on my hip. I didn’t have much other writing work though, so I was able to just concentrate on that. In retrospect it does still seem amazing how much I got done with a baby.

Brette Sember is the author of over 35 books about divorce, parenting, pregnancy, business, food, credit, law, adoption, senior rights and more. Her latest, called No-Pot Cooking, will be released in late 2011. Her web site is and her blog is

Alisa Bowman: Stop thinking ahead and enjoy every word as you type it. When I was writing, I kept worrying about whether publishers would buy the book, whether readers would like it, whether TV would promote it, and so on. I was mired in the future. Yet the process of talking people (publishers, the media, book buyers) into believing in one’s book is a lot less enjoyable than the process of writing one’s book. Even when everything goes well and the media takes an interest and book buyers say they love it, there’s still no comparison. Once the book is on the shelf, there are nasty reviews to contend with, book signings with sparse attendance, and lots and lots of criticism and rejection–and that’s even true of successful books. The difference between writing a book and promoting it is the difference between getting a massage and getting run over by a truck. There is no comparison. Why think about getting run over by a truck during the massage? What a waste. It’s like getting run over twice: once in your mind, and then again in real life. As writers we must promote our work. That’s true. But we don’t have to promote it before the words are written. I wish I would have savored those words with my undivided attention.

Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, which tells the story of how she went from the brink of divorce to falling back in love. She is also the creator of, which is a gathering spot for recovering divorce daydreamers. She will be talking about her virtual book tour during the “Renegade Book Publicity” panel at the upcoming American Society for Journalists and Authors Conference in New York on April 29th. Ed. Note: I’ll be moderating a panel about ebooks at the same conference the following day, so come soak up all our writerly wisdom!

Kristen Fischer: I had such a hard time trying to secure a publisher or agent for my first book. I knew little about the publishing process and grew so disgusted with rejection that I decided to self-publish. I don’t regret it–at the time, that was the book that was in me and I still think I would have had a hard time placing it, but I do wish I explored more career-related publishers and gave it more time. I think I was ready to be an author but my career hadn’t caught up to provide me with the solid base that makes it easier to base a book on. The writing part wasn’t hard, but going through the rejection was. It was just such a long, tiring process. Looking back, if I had more of a platform it may have helped me place it, but it taught me that there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing and it can be a valuable step to build one’s writing career. Less than a year after, a publisher picked up my idea for my second book. So it’s all good.

Kristen Fischer is a self-employed copywriter living at the Jersey Shore. She is the author of Creatively Self-Employed: How Writers and Artists Deal with Career Ups and Downs and Ramen Noodles, Rent and Resumes: An After-College Guide to Life. Learn more at

Flickr photo courtesy of somegeekintn

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