Welcome to Author Spotlight! Each week will feature a different author. We’ll get the scoop behind their writing life and dish a little. The authors will also be giving away a copy of their latest book. FUN.
The winner from last week’s Author Spotlight with Patricia Mauro is Suess! Please send my assistant Amy (firstname.lastname@example.org) your mailing address.
This week’s Spotlight Author is Erik Wesner. Leave a comment here to win a copy of Erik’s book, Success Made Simple.
Share a little bit about yourself. Married with kids? Empty nester? Do you work full-time and write when you can squeeze it in?
I am age 32 and unmarried, which I guess is not too common when 90% of my high school/college buds are hitched. Don’t know if that is a good thing or not, but I’ve always believed that until you find the right one, it’s best to wait.
I split time between Amish communities, my hometown of Raleigh, NC, and Poland. Poland because that’s where my family originally comes from, I still do have family there, and fell in love with the place when I visited grandparents as a young kid.
I primarily write—my blog/website, and books—but also do some teaching while I’m in Krakow, which peels me away from the computer and plays a role in keeping me sane. Even if it means having to go out in sub-zero Polish winter weather.
And share something about your writing. What’s your genre(s), your areas of interest…
I write on the Amish. I’m strictly the non-fiction side. My first published book, out earlier this year (March 2010), was Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive. I have a couple more in the works.
My blog/website, Amish America, is another outlet. In addition to being a general resource on the Amish, I try to explore those areas of Amish life that may not be as well known. Topics lately have included the Amish and Halloween, Amish wedding pens, and Amish communities in odd places like Tennessee and Colorado.
Amish America started out as a standard blog, but I have consciously been transforming it into more of a permanent resource on the Amish. Two recent additions, the Amish Online Encyclopedia and Amish State Guide, are a big part of that.
How did you get started writing? Did you have a dream of being a published author?
I originally met the Amish while doing what most people would consider an archaic trade—selling Bible-oriented books door-to-door. I happened upon Amish in central Illinois (the Arthur community) and found that my books were a hit with them. Additionally, I was intrigued by Amish life, as most people are when they first spend time interacting with Amish people. Over the next few years I visited thousands of Amish homes across the country while selling books.
The job gave me a look into Amish society, and I consider it to be one of the top 2 or 3 experiences of my life. Additionally, I had a chance to observe a large number of Amish businesses—the small furniture shops or mom-and-pop stores Amish operate. I was intrigued by their seeming prosperity. Some of these places were busy.
The idea for the business book hit me while I was out for a routine jog in the fall of 2006, having just finished selling books in Amish communities across northern Indiana. I had read Donald Kraybill and Steven Nolt’s Amish Enterprise, which I much admired. The thought that there really ought to be a book outlining Amish business principles, geared towards a popular audience, grabbed ahold of my leg. Despite that I managed to finish my run and knew I had to do it.
After you started writing seriously–how long was it before you were published?
Since I had a passion to do this book, at times I felt it was almost out of my hands, and that it was almost driving itself as I undertook numerous research trips and landed interviews with various Amish businesspeople, from the “big kahunas” to the modest one-person shops.
I took the approach that I was going to do the research and write the book and have faith that it would come out somehow. Eventually, and thanks to writing the blog, I made connections that led to getting an agent and a nice deal with Jossey-Bass, a subsidiary of John Wiley and Sons. From conception through research and writing to publication was about a 3 ½-year period.
Aside from a cup of good, strong coffee, what helps you get all of your “brain cylinders” firing so you can write well? Do you have any favorite places and routines when you write? How many hours a day do you spend writing?
First of all—for me it’s an AM thing. Notwithstanding the occasional evening flurry of production, after about 1-2pm, I tend to get diminishing returns from the hours I put into writing. So up and at ‘em.
I also write and think best on an empty stomach or a strictly liquid diet, at least for the first few hours of the day. My formula requires 3 glasses—coffee with milk, OJ on the rocks, and carbonated (or as my friend who dislikes it calls it, “gas-powered”) water.
I actually did a lot of the writing of Success Made Simple in cafes around Krakow. Odd that a book on the Amish was largely penned in Poland, but that’s how it went. I would do research trips twice a year, spending a few months in the states at a time, and then take all the goodies I’d gathered back to Poland to digest. I found it to be a good way, at least for me.
What has been the biggest help to you in the journey to publication? Writers’ conferences? Writing groups? Your mom as your first draft reader?
Simply the drive that took hold once the idea for this book struck. I’m motivated by goals, and if they are fairly large and seemingly out of reach—though with the glimmer of how one might get there—I can get into them. This is what pushed me to run my first marathon a few years ago, which at the time seemed an inconceivable distance. It motivated me when I worked in sales, and is also motivating me with a couple of other goals right now. People tend to get excited and act on big goals—more so than for small ones. Though breaking things down into manageable chunks is key as well.
Is the “writer’s life” what you thought it would be?
Here’s what surprised me most—the actual impact of media exposure. My book Success Made Simple has gotten pretty remarkable media coverage for a first book, including TIME magazine, Entrepreneur magazine, an article and video on CNNMoney, interviews on national TV and radio networks, and a host of newspapers across the country.
Despite the great coverage, you are not guaranteed sales—these things will spike sales, and help your reputation and may even be picked up and “go viral”, as in the case of one of the above, but to sustain interest you have to work at it. Or at least I have. And I’ve done that through radio, speaking, online interviews and reviews, and through my own site.
What are your biggest distractions?
What? Hang on…just going to close this window here…okay…Now what was that again? Distractions? Well, news websites…the guy with the drill upstairs…growling stomach…back in a sec…
What was one of the best moments in your career and what was one of the worst?
One of the best moments, or at least one of the most fun, was being on Irish National Radio this past summer. Was it a particularly remarkable interview? No, not really. But for some reason I was tickled that there was interest in what I had done in a fairly far-off, at least Amish-wise, corner of the world. For that matter the fact that the book has gotten international interest-in places like Italy, Poland, and Australia—that has been cool in the same vein.
Another was giving a talk to a room full of nearly 100 Amish businesspeople. Had I flubbed it that one had potential to be one of the worst moments! But thankfully, it went well, and got a positive response. In one case a group of 8 brothers and sisters all lined up to buy a copy afterwards.
Worst-hmm. Perhaps this is testament to my highly-honed ability to bury humiliating and painful experiences, but I’m having trouble coming up with an answer.
I can tell you what was almost the worst. I was on a call-in radio program, 2 really nice fellows in the Midwest. One made a comment like “I’ve read your book, but xxx (co-host) hasn’t because he’s blind”, which I thought was a joke, so I searched for a funny response. But couldn’t think of anything and it was on to something else.
And good I couldn’t, as his co-host, unbeknownst to me, in fact lacked the ability to see. I can imagine how compassionate I would have sounded ripping on a blind man with what I thought to be a clever comeback. So that wasn’t the worst moment, but a near-miss worst moment, I guess.
What do you least like about being a writer? Most like?
Least would be going over edits for the umpteenth time. Most would be doing something that you love. And of course, reader feedback!
What is the role and importance of an agent?
I would say it depends. In my case an agent was crucial for getting the book looked at at a major publishing house. Some may have other “ins” but I am of the mind that if you want to reach a major house, through an agent is the best and most direct way to go. Of course that means you first have to find an agent that likes your idea and appreciates your potential.
On the other hand, I am going to be testing my hand at releasing a book on my own, and am looking forward to the challenge. A lot of authors have succeeded in more or less completely running their own ship, and that idea appeals to me.
What advice would you give to new writers?
Find an idea that gets ahold of your leg and won’t let go. Having a passion for what you are writing about and want to accomplish is crucial for those times when it seems like you’re stuck at buggy pace.
Pretend I’m a customer at a bookstore looking for a good book. Give me a one or two sentence promo to convince me to buy your book.
60 Amish give you an inside peek into their work lives, and how an occupation fits in with all the important things—faith, passion, family, home. Packed with authentic Amish voices—from Ephraim and Martha Lapp, PA “koo juice” producers and parents of 8, to wisecracking Amish minister and wood-man Alvin Hershberger.
What’s on the book horizon for you?
Next month, my second book, Kim Są Amisze? (Who are the Amish?), will be published as the first book on the Amish in the Polish language.
Another one that I’m excited about, and tentatively slated for release in early-mid 2011, is an all-purpose guide to the Amish that will cover some new ground and topics little or not seen before. I think readers are going to enjoy it.
Last question, how can readers find you and your books?
Come visit me at amishamerica.com. We’ve got a great bunch of readers and the pack just seems to be growing all the time. And I love getting comments and always do my best to respond. It’s a lot of fun.
More on my Amish business book Success Made Simple can be had at amishbusinessbook.com.
And for Facebook-inclined folks, I’m on FB a lot too, so come say hi and be friendly!
Thank you for sharing your writing life with my bleaders! (blog + readers = bleaders)