March 12, 2019
Note From Rochelle
Today’s tip features an interview with Elise Seyfried, who has created several books by collecting her short, humorous essays.
If you’re interested in turning your essays, speeches or blog posts into a book, purchase my class, “Leverage Your Content.” I walk you through the steps you need to take to transform your book idea into a finished product.
Writers@Work: An Interview with Author Elise Seyfried
by Rochelle Melander
How did you get started as a writer?
I have written since I was a little girl, stories and poems, mostly. Some were OK, some, as I recall, were pretty dreadful. As an adult, my husband Steve and I began our own children’s theatre company, and we wrote all of the plays together for many years.
In 2002, I started working at a Lutheran church outside of Philadelphia as spiritual formation director. I found that one of my favorite parts of the job was writing an article for our monthly newsletter, and soon I was writing essays for a wide variety of publications, from Guideposts Magazine to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Lately, I have written more than 100 fun skits for progressive churches, working with a company called Clergy Stuff. I write a regular column for a local newspaper, and continue to write for other publications.
Many of my first drafts remain pretty dreadful, but the end results these days are much better than the heartfelt, but clunky poem I wrote about JFK when I was seven (“the new president, L.B. Johnson, will be perhaps as good/but we will miss you very much/Believe me if you would.”)
Tell us about your new book, In Discovery, and how it came about.
In Discovery is my fourth book of essays. My first, Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life, was inspired by the good folks at Christ’s Lutheran Church, who enjoyed my newsletter articles and encouraged me to collect them in a book. My oldest son, Sheridan, after listening to me humble brag multiple times about so and so wanting me to write a book, finally said one day, “Mom. Do it, or never talk about it again!” He was (I think) kidding, but it did get me going! Once the first book came out, it was fairly easy to just continue. The essays in my books are mostly funny, some more reflective, and they are about my everyday life with my large family, friends, and church family, and how I see God at work in even the simplest moments.
How did you decide which essays to include in the collection?
I write a LOT, so it was easy to have enough material, between my freelance writing and my blog (I write 500 word essays for each blog post, and often expand upon them and sell them to various outlets). After everything went to the publisher one final time, I found a humorous essay that I’d really loved writing, about dreading possibly being a widow someday, because my husband hangs all the pictures in the house (among a zillion other things he does). Too late to include, but possibly a piece for Book #5, if that ever happens.
What have been the most challenging parts of being an indie published author?
I’ve honestly enjoyed the entire process, though it always takes longer than you think it will. Marketing the books is the biggest challenge, with so many books and authors out there. I sell a great many books at my speaking gigs, and I do a LOT of mailings, send out press releases. I read somewhere that most authors only sell a few hundred books total in their lifetime. I am way past that number, but I think it’s largely because I have really worked at selling. Buyers are not just going to come to you. Unless you are JK Rowling.
What advice would you give to first-timers?
Just begin somewhere, anywhere! I teach a memoir writing class now, and while it’s daunting to write your life story, it can definitely be done with some perseverance. Anne Lamott recalls her brother struggling to write a school paper about birds. He was totally stuck, until their father said, “Just take it bird by bird, buddy.” So that’s my advice. Bird by bird. Oh, and try not to let rejection get to you (easy to say, I know). I am aiming for 100 rejections this year, which will mean I have sent pieces out at least 100 times. Instead of being blue when I get a “no,” now it’s getting me closer to my goal!
What are you reading now?
I always have several books going, some spiritual and some not. I gravitate towards short-form (essay collections, novellas), probably because I write short pieces myself. So on my bedside table now are essay collections by Brian Doyle, David Sedaris and Meghan Daum—all different, all terrific writers. I also just finished reading Foster, a gorgeous little novel set in Ireland, by Claire Keegan.
About the author. Elise Seyfried is Spiritual Formation Director at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland, PA. She is mom of five grown kids and “nana” of two young grandsons. Her writing has appeared in such diverse places as The Philadelphia Inquirer, Purple Clover, Modern Loss and Chicken Soup for the Soul. She has performed in two stage productions, Listen to Your Mother and This is My Brave, telling true stories of motherhood, and of her journey with mental illness. Elise is the author of four books of humorous spiritual essays: Unhaling, Underway, Everyday Matters, and In Discovery. Her website is www.eliseseyfried.com.
Write Now! Coach Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach, experienced publishing strategist, and artist educator. She is the author of eleven books, including the forthcoming, Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity. She provides solutions for people who feel stuck, overwhelmed or confused by the publishing process. She is the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop that supports teens in finding their voice and sharing their stories. Sign up for her Write Now! Tips Ezine at https://www.writenowcoach.com.