By Local Author Susan TeBos
West Michigan is my home. I attended high school in Coopersville, CMU for my undergrad in business and German, then attended WMU for an MA in corporate communications. I am a U of M fan. I get attached to the players and am sad when they leave for the NBA. My husband and I have three grown children ages 20, 22 and 24. Before kids, I worked in Marketing at Amway in Ada, MI. My duties included writing strategic plans and setting direction for magazine copy for product launches. I learned everything on the job, but I had a feel for it.
I was not formally trained as a journalist or novelist or nonfiction writer. Writing a book never crossed my mind. I wrote my first book after I left my career to raise our kids.
My husband Mike and I adopted our kids from Russia. Their lives have inspired my writing aspirations. Kids who were internationally adopted are missing information about their birth families, heritage, language and why they were relinquished, all important pieces of their stories. So, I set out digging for information, making safe assumptions and piecing together "lifebooks" for each of my kids.
I captured the process in a book for adoptive parents, Before You Were Mine: Discovering Your Adopted Child's Lifestory. I confess, this book was more technical in nature with more how-to's than creative writing content. But I had a desire to share what I had learned with other parents and that was the motivation that kept me going. What I also learned through this process was how to write a book proposal that sells. Doing the work of writing a book proposal sounds hard, and it takes a huge, lofty vision that makes it concrete and manageable. If you take the time to do this, the book proposal becomes two things --- a roadmap for moving forward and a sales pitch to sell your work to publishers, agents and magazines. Plan on hunkering down for a month to write a book proposal. It's worth it.
After co-authoring Before You Were Mine, the dust settled on the post-launch promotion and I continued to write new things, but couldn't sell my ideas to my publisher. I learned several things about writing for publication and myself.
- The book idea must be different from anything else in an overcrowded market. In other words, what makes your idea unique? What is the significance of your short story, article or book idea?
- I needed to learn the writing craft. Surprise! I went back to college and took several writing classes including creative nonfiction and others at Cornerstone University. The class sizes were small. Yes, I was the old one among fresh writing blood. But boy did I learn what I needed to up my writing game. To save money, I audited the classes. I took traditional undergraduate classes mostly at night. I did not take any fast-track master's classes. The writing professor coached me into the right classes that would be most helpful for me as a non-fiction writer. She would do the same for fiction writers. My goal was to immerse myself in learning from those who shared my writing passion, and apply the craft and receive a grade and feedback. BEST investment ever.
My second book We've Been There: True Stories, Surprising Insights, and Aha Moments for Adopted Teens debuted June 14, 2022, again inspired by my kids. In this book, I interview over thirty adopted teens and young adults who talk about their feelings, thoughts, experiences and unanswered questions, sharing what they have learned, but also what they wished someone had told them. It's a bit like Chicken Soup for the Soul only for adopted teens. Interestingly, I used a journalistic style of writing to pull this off which I had never used before. This was only accomplished by learning the writing craft.
My advice. Anyone who wants to write can learn to write. Writing is a craft like wood working, art or gardening. Learning plus desire has been my winning combination. Once you know the tools, you have what it takes.
The following is a list of my favorite resources that I use over and over again to help me sharpen my craft. The learning never ends.
Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life by Leslie Leyland Fields
Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller & Susan Paola
Book proposal: How to Write A Book Proposal 5th Edition by Jody Rein with Michael Larsen
For more local authors check out our local indie collection here.