I recently had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Julie Young, a local author and blogger with one book under her belt (A Belief in Providence: A Life of Saint Theodora Guerin) and another coming out shortly (Images of America: Historic Irvington). Julie is a PR machine and I thought it would be fun to do a blog interview with her so she could share some of her experience and techniques. Here's what she had to say:
JW: How did you wind up getting involved in your first book project, A Belief in Providence: A Life of Saint Theodora Guerin?
JY: As cheesy as it sounds, I didn't choose the subject, I honestly believe that the subject chose me. I was a beginning student at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College planning on a career in professional writing when I went to visit the place where Saint Theodora (Mother Theodore) was buried. I was so worried that my college education would take at least "100 years" to complete, so I asked her if she would help me get through it, I would somehow give it all back to her. Silly me, I thought I would just write a check, but I guess she had other plans for my talent. After I graduated, I knew I wanted to make the jump and write a book, but I knew I needed a good idea to attract a publisher's interest. I thought back to Mother Theodore and it was like a lightning bolt. I researched to see how many books had been written on her and found that there weren't too many and certainly not from a lot of people outside of the convent community or someone that they had commissioned, so I knew I stood a chance. I submitted the proposal to two publishers before it was accepted and thanks to Mother Theodore's canonization, I was really in the right place at the right time to write the first all new biography on Indiana's first Catholic Saint!
JW: When we spoke earlier you mentioned all the various marketing and PR efforts you've been involved with for that book. A lot of authors unfortunately feel their job is done when they submit the last batch of manuscript. What are some of the things you've done to help raise awareness and spark interest in your book?
JY: As I mentioned when we met, I have a music background so I know all too well that it is simply not enough to produce something, but you have to promote it in order to get people behind it! My children will tell you that I bring up my career to anyone who will stand still long enough because I am a shameless self-promoter...but really, you have to be. You are not a publisher's only author, the world doesn't revolve around you so you have to be willing to write the press releases and appear at signings, and let people know what you are up to. It is vital to your success...also, as a reporter, I am predisposed to know all of my "angles." I knew that this was a book that would appeal to a variety of people whether they were Catholic, history buffs, teachers or kids studying Indiana history. Mother Theodore was also someone who had an impact all over the state, not just in one location making her matter to a lot more people. I want the events to be successful, and I never forget for two seconds that they are doing me a huge favor by having me out to their shop. I will create posters that they can pass out, I contact media myself (because often times people forget) I always have a postcard on hand or a copy of the book so that I can tell people about it. Heck, I even gave a speech at a local high school for career day and met a woman whose father was well-positioned in the Catholic school system in Lafayette. That connection led to an all-day signing. You never know what opportunity might turn up so you have to be ready and not rely on someone else!
JW: Your next book, Images of America: Historic Irvington, is scheduled to publish this summer. How did this book project compare to your first one? Did you learn any tidbits along the way that you'd like to share with other authors out there?
JY: My goodness...this book was definitely different in a lot of ways. This book relied heavily on historic photographs and I discovered that there weren't a lot of those even though I was initially told there were "thousands." Those images were already published and unfortunately, not everyone understood that you just can't "borrow" from other sources arbitrarily. I even had one guy who gave me several really nice photos that belonged to the Indiana Historical Society, but he "Walgreened" them and cut off the Collection numbers. Thank goodness I recognized a few of them, but it is a good lesson. To be thought of as a professional, do your homework because saying "I didn't know" after the fact will not stop any entity from suing you when their material is used without permission.
JW: You're also involved in the IUPUI Continuing Studies Program as an instructor for creative and freelance writing. What are some of the lessons you've learned from your first two book projects that you've been able to pass along to your students? How have those book projects helped you as an instructor?
JY: As a relatively new author, I have fallen into the same trap that a lot of people fall into when they are starting out...they want someone to show them the Secret to Publishing or to tell them some tip that is going to change everything. I was the same way and I make no bones about that to my students. I also quickly let them know that there are no shortcuts. Even though I would love to say that my books have garnered me all kinds of accolades and people are tripping all over themselves to represent me...I am constantly telling my students that it is no different for me than it is anyone else...it is like that old song "Even when you get some recognition, everything you do, you still audition."
I often tell students that it is important to understand all that is expected of you...take the time to read things carefully because even though we are so excited about a book or an article or just seeing our name in print, now is not a time to be sloppy about our work and what we are giving up. That is probably the single biggest tidbit. Some other things to think about are: neatness counts, be flexible, take criticism, rejection is not always a bad thing (you can get some really great advice in the process) and above all, do not expect to become J.K. Rowling overnight.
JW: Your background includes an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show, a stop every author would love to make. What's the story behind that unique experience?
JY: The Oprah Experience was the moment that I used as a stepping stone to launch what would become my career. I was selected (along with nine others) to be guests on the Book Club show to discuss Elizabeth Berg's Open House. I thought to myself "If I wrote a letter good enough to get on Oprah, what else could I do?" Elizabeth has become someone I am friendly with and she has been instrumental in helping me get started and encouraging me. At her last signing, I was thrilled when she looked out into the audience and said "Oh look, Julie's here!" Being on Oprah was the chance of a lifetime, but who knows, maybe one day I will give a repeat performance, only this time as the author!