A Long Path
Today, October 28, 2000 - I am a published author.
I don't remember exactly when I started the journey towards being an author, but I do know it was more than 10 years ago and I remember exactly how it started.
Kellisa was getting bigger and Lisa wanted a wheelchair lift for her Toyota Sienna. I wanted a quick (and easy) way to earn some extra money to purchase the modification.
I was traveling for work 90% of the time and Lisa was alone as Kellisa's only caregiver during the week. I wanted to provide the lift to make Lisa's already difficult life a little easier. I started to rack my brain and I remembered a coworker (Sonya Osborne) telling me I should write a book about Kellisa as far back as 2003 when I would share some of Kellisa's stories while we ate lunch together. I also remembered my brother-in-law, Jim saying, "Anyone can get an advance to write a book."
All I had to do was find a publisher willing to give me an advance and I'd write a book. It's comical looking back at how "fast and easy" I thought it would be.
I knew nothing about writing a book and knew even less about the publishing world, but I was confident we had a story to tell. My original idea was to write narrative non-fiction weaving Kellisa's adventures between her medical struggles. At the time, Kellisa was still having regular surgeries, dozens of appointments, and several major medical scares each year. Kellisa was also thriving as an adventurer.
Kellisa loved being out on real trails and camping at night. She loved all forms of travel, especially trains and planes. Kellisa was riding roller coasters and playing sports. Basically, no one would ever believe she was in a wheelchair if all they saw was her list of accomplishments. And all this was on top of the fact that Kellisa wasn't expected to live more than a few minutes.
With very minimal research, I learned you needed to submit a query letter to a literary agent as the first step in getting published. I researched literary agents and selected one based in Colorado who seemed to like stories about people thriving and overcoming great challenges. Thinking back, I wrote a horrible query that should have been deleted immediately, but the agent saw enough to think there was a story to be told. The agent requested my book proposal.
I stopped my original research after figuring out I needed a query letter and I knew nothing about book proposals. I would later learn that aspiring writers should never send a query unless the have a well written book proposal ready to go.
I was excited when I got the response and agreed to send my proposal after I made a "few" changes. This again should have been enough for the agent to move on since she received hundreds of queries each week, but she responded that she looked forward to my proposal.
A few minutes into my new research and it became painfully obvious that you don't just write a book proposal. Without going into details, the proposal that led to my contract for Rugged Access for All took many months to perfect. I had the help of an editor (Gin Kilgore) to see the big picture of my story telling and keep me on target and schedule. To give some perspective of the scope, my proposal was just short of 9,000 words and Rugged Access for All came in at 90,000 words.
Back to my first attempt at a proposal. I took a week off of work and didn't sleep as I wrote my book proposal. I felt confident after spending probably 100 or so hours creating it. In reality, I wasn't a writer and any literary agent would have known I was far from ready, but the agent had some mercy and responded with an email telling me I wasn't ready and outlined some of the major things I needed to do.
Unfortunately, my "To Do" list would take years of hard work to complete. I needed to better define my target and secondary audiences. I had to find my "voice". I had to create my platform for people to see what I was doing. This is why I created Kellisa's Path - to get our story out to the world. I was advised to get some of our stories published in magazines and/or well known blogs. It would help if we received some coverage in newspapers and on TV. I could go on and on about how far short I fell. The goal was to show would be publishers that we had a story to tell, but more importantly that there was an audience for the story.
I felt loyal to the literary agent who offered her guidance and sent a new query when I felt ready. Unfortunately, she was no longer in the publishing industry. I spent the next 5-6 years looking for a literary agent. I would research the agent so I could find someone interested in similar projects and it was highly recommended to throw something in your query to show the agent you did your research.
Some of the literary agents I found would request that you didn't send your query to multiple agents at the same time. This prevented my from sending out hundreds or thousands with the hope that one would be interested. The agents also requested up to 3 months for their response and if you didn't receive a response, they weren't interested, which meant you could now send a query to the next agent on your list.
I always followed the protocol and would wait before sending my next query. I went years without a singe response of any kind. This led to doubts. I never doubted we had a story to share, but I questioned my abilities. I changed my proposal several times and I even took a few months off a couple of times when I felt defeated.
I could have self-published at any time, but I wanted my book to be put out by a traditional publisher.
By 2017, I was tired of crashing into brick walls and I was close to giving up when I decided to change my approach and break one of the main rules. I decided to go directly to an acquisition editor who worked for a publisher and not use a literary agent. I only did this when I read an interview with an acquisition editor and something clicked. I just felt like she would be interested.
By now, I knew my way around a query letter and fired one off quickly knowing my odds were low. I did change my pitch a little which would mean my proposal would also need to be updated. I broke another rule by sending the query before I updated my proposal. I doubted I would get a response and figured even if I did, I'd have at least a month to prepare my proposal. It should have been plenty of time, but I received an email about a week later asking for my proposal.
I wasn't ready and ask for a little time to finish it. I didn't need to start over from word one, but I did need to make some major changes. I knew this was my chance, perhaps only chance and I needed it to be my absolute best effort. Gin and I kicked it into high gear and a few weeks later, I submitted a proposal I was confident in and felt proud of the finished product.
A couple of months passed before I heard anything back. After exchanging some emails, changing a few things, and discussing different options, I signed my contract with Rowman and Littlefield in September 2018 with a deadline to submit my final manuscript on November 1, 2019.
Due to several factors mostly out of my control, I needed to take 3 weeks of PTO from my day job in October 2019 to finished Rugged Access for All. I averaged just a few hours of sleep each night as the deadline approached and spent the last 72 hours without sleep during the final push. I needed everything Lisa had to give and she was up almost as long at the end while also running the house and taking care of the girls.
I've mentioned a few people above who played key roles along the way. I have too many people to thank and I would hate to forget someone. I appreciate everyone who played a part along this long path!
A few deserve extra thanks and the first is my employer of the last almost 16 years, HB Fuller. Without a great employer, none of this would have been possible!
I have to thank Tom Trakas for sparking my interest in writing back in the 90s. Almost 30 years of friendship means so much to me!
My awesome sister-in-law, Cindy Bucher has been helping me with this project since the beginning. Cindy created 3 pages of graphs for the book, but she's done far more along the way and has a way of taking my bare ideas and turning them into something spectacular. I can't thank you enough!
I also needed Kellisa, who is the story and Egypt stepped up in so many ways beyond her 11 years!
Lastly, without Lisa and her love and support - Nothing!