Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Self-Help Book Ends The Summer Great Book Giveaway

Today, for the last author of the Summer Great Book Giveaway, I have Pat Olsen talking about her recently released book, “How to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister and Not Lose Yourself.” I recently read that self-help books are harder to get published these days. Read about how Pat did it and if you have questions of your own, just click on "comments" and ask by 5 p.m. CST today. If I randomly draw your question, Pat will answer your question and you'll win a copy of the book!

Tell us about yourself.
I'm mainly a health and business journalist. I've been writing for the NewYork Times for eight years, and I write executive columns for two business trade magazines. I also write for several health publications, and I've written about substance abuse and recovery quite a bit. Not to drop names, but I was a technical writer for years, the same as Amy Tan and Marion Winik. (OK, to drop names.)

Tell us about your new book, “How to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister and Not Lose Yourself.”
Substance abuse, treatment, and recovery has long been one of my interests, since I come from a family of alcoholics. Looking back on my relationship with my brothers few years ago, I realized that I had learned a few things that others like me might benefit from.
While my parents were alive, there were four family members around me who all had drinking problems. I spent a lot of time taking care of my parents as they got older. After they died, and it was just my brothers and me and I was able to focus on just the three of us, everything sort of telescoped. I had been learning more about the disease, and I had gained some distance so I was able to look back with new understanding.

How did you find your co-author? How did you decide who wrote what and who is doing the marketing?
I had interviewed Dr. Levounis for an article I wrote for Hemispheres, United's inflight magazine, on executives and substance abuse. He was so eloquent and had so much wisdom. When an agent suggested I needed an expert coauthor to interest a publisher in this book, I immediately thought of him.
We both knew we had to find a format that made sense for a reader but that would also work with his schedule. We decided that he would comment and lend his expertise at points throughout the book that made the most sense. We're both marketing the book. For example, Dr. L. belongs to numerous professional associations and has done many radio interviews. I'm doing a number of things regarding the associations I belong to, and I think radio and blogs will be great for word of mouth selling, too.

This book must have great personal significance for you. Did you ever encounter emotional issues while writing it? What advice would you offer other writers who may face similar challenges?
It was very difficult at times and I still get emotional when I read the epilogue about my younger brother. He died while we were writing the book and although it's been over a year now, it's like it was yesterday. I wish several things had been different. I tell readers that it's best if you try not to have regrets when it comes to family members who have this difficult disease, but I'm not always good at taking my own advice. I'd advise others to ask writer friends for their opinion and trust their editor. Whenever I was getting into my own story too much, my wonderful editor Renee Sedliar would reign me in.

I don’t think there are many books out there on this subject. How did you convince a publisher that there’s an audience for this book?
I don't think I had to do much convincing once I had the format right. (My first proposal was too memoir-ish.) It stands to reason--if there are almost 22 million Americans who are addicted to or abuse alcohol, many if not most of them have siblings. If a publisher deals with recovery books, then they reocognize our numbers. My story must have convinced mine there was a need for this book.

Your audience is also a pretty narrow one. How are you promoting your book?
I think it will sell mostly through recovery radio programs (I'm signed up for my first one), and through professional organizations and other people in the field of recovery. I hope it's a book therapists will want to give to clients, too. I have some essays in mind to send out as well.

Did you do a lot of research for this book, or did you focus more on your personal experiences?
I did do a lot of research. I briefly told my story and the stories of four other siblings. Dr. L. provided a lot of information, too. I'm so indebted to him.

What do you think is the most important thing for a writer of a self-help guide to remember while writing it?
That you may think something is too basic to include because you know the subject, but you should include it anyway. There will be people who don't know the information you were going to leave out.

Were there any surprises in either the writing or publishing process?
I knew that an editor can improve a manuscript exponentially, but I was amazed from day one at how talented my editor was, and I'm not just saying that. I also didn't know there was both a publicist and a marketing department at the publisher and the two are different.

....And now Pat is awaiting your questions!

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