Today we are privileged to have with us author Denise Levenick. Denise is the author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes. Denise has also recently finished her first blog book tour. Denise has offered to sit down with us and answer some questions about her journey through the writing and publishing process.
1. Many of our challenge members are just beginning their writing journey, and of course they are overwhelmed by the task. It seems almost insurmountable and a long journey. How long was this book in the process from concept to completion? Did you always have a clear vision for it?
From the first idea to the last word seemed too long sometimes, yet not long enough at other times. The book began with a conversation on my birthday August 11, 2011 and the manuscript was delivered January 16, 2012. How to Archive Family Keepsakes started as a guide to working with family collections but the structure and form evolved as the chapters took shape. In the end, it was a bit different from what it started out to be, but I think it’s better in many ways. It is a more comprehensive handbook and more useful to family historians at many levels than a book exclusively dedicated to archiving would have been. The sections on digitizing, scanning, and organizing genealogy research have something for all genealogists, not just people with collected artifacts.
2. I’m a big advocate for outlining your family history books and stories before writing. I notice you mentioned mindmapping in your book for research. I’m a big fan. Did you use a mindmap to outline this book? If not, which approach did you take to outline your book?
As a former teacher, I know that there are many ways to learn a new skill. My New England genealogy pal Midge Frazel is a tech educator and writes often about mind-mapping as a planning tool. I am an old-fashioned outline person. I like charts, lists, and outlines, and I drafted many pages as I planned the book. It helped that my publisher worked with me on the overall chapter outline, so that we were working together to cover the subject thoroughly. I outlined the book in Scrivener and Microsoft Word.
3. Your publisher for How to Archives Family Keepsakes is FW Media, publishers of Family Tree Magazine. I’m sure many readers would like to know how that relationship came about. Did you approach them with your idea? Did they seek you out? What advice would you have to a new writer looking for a publisher?
My publishers, FW Media, publish Family Tree Books and Family Tree Magazine. I wrote several articles for the magazine about organizing, storing, and preserving family heirlooms before they asked me if I would like to write a full-length book on the topic. By that time, I knew the editors and felt comfortable tackling a large project with the team. I would encourage any writer who wants to work with a traditional publishing house, instead of the e-book or self-publishing route, to work on short pieces and build their writing portfolio with print and online clippings.
4. What writing and organizing tools did you rely on to organize, write and publish this book?
For tools, I am a big fan of Scrivener. Previously, it was only available for the Mac, and was a deciding factor in my switch from PC to Mac. Now I understand the software runs on PC as well. Anyone who’s ever written a lengthy document in a word processor knows how cumbersome it is to move chunks of text from one section to another. Scrivener’s beautiful interface makes organizing a document pleasurable.
I cut my teeth on the program with a few shorter magazine articles before jumping to the book project. It takes practice to discover how to refine the preferences for your own style, and how to “compile” a draft into a polished piece of text. Even now, I am still learning new tricks that make my writing easier with Scrivener.
5. What surprised you most about the writing and publishing process? Is there a myth or misconception you had about writing and publishing that dispelled through the process?
What a great question. Actually, I was surprised by the length of time required for the edits, after the final manuscript was submitted. Somehow, I just hadn’t thought about it, but we probably spent another two months in editing before we put the manuscript to bed. Then we had another round of galley proofs before printing. It’s a lengthy process.
6. What do you deem as your biggest mistake when it comes to writing and publishing this book? Perhaps it is still too early to tell? Is there something you would you do differently the next time, in so far as what you have learned thus far?
I hope there’s a next time! I loved writing this book. Maybe it’s like a runner feels moving through a good work-out, but when I was at my desk writing every day, I felt truly whole. There was nothing in front of me but blank pages to be filled with words.
The manuscript deadlines were tight for me, mostly because I had travel plans and a new grandchild. I signed the contract the same week my grandson was born and started writing immediately. I worked for a few weeks before leaving on a planned trip New England where, unfortunately, I had an accident in Boston and fractured my elbow. I came home with my arm in a sling and it was a rough few months. I experimented with dictating software, but finally just adjusted my work schedule and took lots of breaks to meet my daily word deadline. Life happens, and you never know what may interrupt your schedule. “Next time” I hope I am able to build in a little extra time to allow for the unexpected.
7. You have been busy doing a blog tour with your book. Marketing your own book is hard work. Harder than writing? Why did you decide to do a blog book tour? We see it being used by the book world frequently now; did you find it a success for a family history genre book?
It is a real change to wear a “marketing hat” instead of a “writer’s cap.” It’s work of a different kind, but brings me in touch with readers, and I love that aspect. My publisher suggested my recent blog book tour, and the comments I received showed me that family history readers are ready for new ways to discover information and resources.
8. Of course with challenge comes change, and writing a book is a huge challenge. However, it also results in a journey of self-discovery and growth. How has writing this book challenged you personally? How has that challenge changed you?
The opportunity to write this book occurred almost one year after my mother passed away. It was a bittersweet challenge and healing in many ways. Mom was always my biggest cheerleader and I know she would love to hold a copy of the book in her hands. Writing under a tight deadline shaped my days for many weeks and helped me move through my grief with purpose. I didn’t need to write about my grief so much as just write about Mom and her family; maybe that’s why so many personal anecdotes found their way into the manuscript. Now, with this book completed, I feel ready to tackle some of the research and writing projects that Mom and I had planned together.
9. What needs to happen for you to define this book as a success? What sort of milestones or expectations do you hope to reach through this book?
For me, seeing the book in print and reading reader comments makes me feel that I have successfully accomplished my goal – to share the value of preserving our past. I love connecting with readers, hearing about their family treasures, and learning about what kinds of things people valued enough to pass on as keepsakes.
10. The number one complaint from writers, is finding the time to write, fitting it into their busy schedules. Clearly, you’re busy with a blog, and webinars and a family and your own research. How did you personally find the time to write this book? What tools did you use to stay focused and find the time to write?
Time for writing doesn’t just happen. It has to be set aside as almost sacred. I am the kind of person who doesn’t multi-task well. I take on one thing at a time, and work away until it’s finished. That meant that a lot of home and family tasks needed to be delegated or shared. I was fortunate that my husband volunteered to take on the job of my “Personal Assistant.” He fielded phone calls, made meals, did the grocery shopping, and pretty much kept the house running while I wrote 8, 10, and 12 hours a day. Truly, I could not have done it without him. We kept days off as family days to enjoy our family and relax.
When I was writing, it was a kind of zen experience. I didn’t do anything but write. I played little games with myself to keep myself moving forward. Each morning, I opened Scrivener and reset the Session Project Target for the day. This is my favourite feature in Scrivener. When I came back from Boston with a broken elbow, I knew I had exactly x number of days until my next deadline and x number of words to write. The Scrivener Project Target feature allows you to select your workdays (usually six for me) and overall target in words, characters, or pages. I started out writing about 1500 words per day, and built up to 4,000 words per day when I was nearing my deadline.
When I exceeded my goal, I knew I could take some time off — and I did!
11. I believe we can give ourselves cues to help us settle into the writing process. Did you have any habits or rituals you employed in order to get into the right frame of mind and prepare to write?
My daily routine involved being at my desk and writing no later than 8 am. I usually took a break after a few hours to take a short walk around the block, no more than 20 minutes, and then worked steadily until lunchtime. In the afternoon, I wrote from 1 until 5 or so, unless my husband was out of town and I continued into the evening. They were long days. I measured my writing by Scrivener’s built-in Goal App.
12. Most writers at some point go through a period of self-doubt. Wonder if the writing is good enough, if it will be received well. Did you ever encounter these moments through your journey? How did you overcome them?
It was terribly difficult to hit the “Send” button with the final manuscript. I remember feeling an enormous sense of both loss and relief. But it wasn’t until the galley proofs were approved that I felt like the books was truly on its way to the reader’s hands. After that, there’s no going back. It’s a scary time, and all you can do is wait and hope that your audience accepts what you’ve done.
13. Do you have any last words or advice for our challenge members whose ultimate goal may be to write and publish a book?
I wrote and self-published my first nonfiction book in the 1980’s. You won’t find it available anywhere for sale, but the experience was tremendously useful because it showed me that I could do it! I could write a book. And magazine articles were further affirming steps on the way to book authorship. If you have a story in you, keep the goal alive, and take small steps towards turning the story into a book. Practice your craft in short pieces, learn everything you can about the publishing world, and then, just do it.
Thank you Denise for taking the time to share your journey with us. If you would like to learn more about Denise’s book How to Archive Family Keepsakes and be sure to read our first Q & A where we explore the contents of this fantastic book.
In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” Denise May Levenick is a writer, researcher, and speaker with a passion for preserving and sharing family treasures of all kinds. She is the creator of the award-winning family history blog, The Family Curator and author of the new book How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records (Family Tree Books, 2012).