By Judy Gruen
Beware of sudden inspiration - it can grip you like a fever and consume your life! Well, okay, perhaps that's an exaggeration. But not by much.
You see, I had been a stay-at-home mother for 11 years, and happily so, taking freelance writing and editing work and tailoring it around my family's needs. I really had it all: part-time work I loved, the luxury of being at home, and household help on top of it. This extra help enabled me not only to get a sense of professional fulfillment, but also to contribute to my community as a volunteer. I didn't want to stay out of the work world for years at a stretch, so right before my first child was born and I left my full-time job as a corporate communications editor at a Fortune 500 company, I asked my replacement to keep me in mind for freelance assignments. This led to steady work for about two years. I also contacted other editors at other places I had worked prior, and similarly invited them to utilize my talents. They too, often obliged. Keeping up with my old friends from prior jobs kept me going with about as much freelance writing and editing as I wanted. I stopped working only after I had my third baby in four years - then, even with help, I was helpless to string three sentences along that would make sense to anyone! But amazingly, after my fourth baby came along, I was ready to work again.
Sure, there were some bum jobs. Word-of-mouth brought me some odd referrals, most memorably, the editing of an awful fiction manuscript written by an old woman who passed away before I was finished. Her daughter, taking offense at some of my edits, refused to pay me! Fortunately, most of my clients survive my edits, even my most severe critiques, and I finally did get paid by a family friend who recognized the daughter's injustice to an honest freelancer.
Now, all was going along swimmingly until the day I was driving around town and that fateful inspiration struck. Without warning, a pun gobsmacked me: "Carpool Tunnel Syndrome!" I realized that this was the unsung malady of our generation, we of the minivan brigade. As soon as this wonderful pun came to mind, I was seized with the idea to write a humor book about motherhood, with this title.
The project took on a life of its own. Not willing to go through the agonies of trying to find an agent, which can be a lengthy and humiliating process, I decided to co-publish it with a friend who had also been a stay-at-home mother and work part-time as a typesetter and graphic artist. Little did I know that more than just write a book I was starting a business! Publishing is not for the faint of heart, and there are easier ways not to make money. However, even knowing that we were in for a long and bumpy ride, we proceeded.
As a co-publisher of my book, I am not only involved in constant efforts at promotion, but also at collecting outstanding receivables, shipping the books (my pectorals have benefited as a result), and worrying about whether I will ever make a profit. As of this writing, "Carpool Tunnel Syndrome" has been out for not quite six months, and is still just really becoming known.
Fortunately, I love promoting the book, but I miss the opportunity to write my next one. Today I got up at 5:00 a.m. to do a morning drive-time radio interview broadcast on the east coast. I spend my days trying to juggle all kinds of tasks that will move my book and career forward. These days, my tasks include (but are not limited to) writing and publishing new articles with my "author of. . ." byline at the end, sending out feature releases to coincide with Mother's Day, firming up Mother's Day author appearances at local bookstores, and looking for other, creative ways to sell the book, such as to organizations like Books Are Fun and other non-bookstore outlets. My most recent gambit was to send a proposal to the Ford dealership where I bought my own minivan and try to induce them to purchase my book as a promotional giveaway to people who buy new minivans or other family cars at their facility. I also offered to come on a weekend to sign books. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that one.
There have been disappointments, of course: standing on my feet for eight hours at a stretch at holiday boutiques where the organizers were so enthusiastic about my book they were sure I'd sell "hundreds"!, but finding in reality that most people would just look at my book, laugh and tell one another how funny and cute it was, and then saunter off to buy the pricey goods! Definitely this has been a recipe for a lesson in humility.
On the other hand, I've enjoyed some wonderful successes. Woman's Day magazine excerpted a chapter from my book in March (I had sent excerpts around to many magazines, and hit pay dirt with them.) While even that exposure hasn't catapulted me to fame and glory, it's a great thing to add to my "brag sheet," and that excerpt caught the attention of the articles editor at another major woman's magazine. She, in turn, has asked me to submit ideas for a slice-of-life column they are now opening up to new writers.
I never know what each day will bring. I've still got lots of irons in the fire and my hopes are still high that one day "Carpool Tunnel Syndrome" will earn me a nickel or two. But I need to remind myself daily that this is a slow, steady road, and that the publishing of my first book, despite all the hard work, time and money invested, may itself just be a vital stepping stone to my next book, enabling me to build a loyal readership base.
Who knows? It happened to Erma, perhaps it can happen to me, too!
Judy Gruen is a mother of four children, ages 7-12, and the author of "Carpool Tunnel Syndrome: Motherhood as Shuttle Diplomacy" (Heaven Ink Publishing, 224 pages, softcover, $12.95). Available at bookstores, Amazon.com, and Barnes and Noble.com. For autographed copies, call toll-free 1-866-836-2444 or visit www.heavenink.com.
author, "Carpool Tunnel Syndrome: Motherhood as Shuttle Diplomacy" (Heaven Ink Publishers, 2001, 224 pages, softcover, $12.95. Order toll-free 1-866-836-2444)