Publishing the Pain

“I want to publish my story. How do I go about it?” Since the publication of my non-fiction book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, I’m asked that a lot. I can’t say how any one person should go about it, but here’s what I did.

The book stemmed from the journaling I did in the months and years after the death of my wife of forty years. It started out as a mechanism to help me through my grief, but when a trusted friend read the material he urged me to share it with others who were suffering the same loss. I had no idea how to do this, but eventually I stumbled into the process this way.

1) Learn how to write. Now that sounds silly. We all speak and write English. But that’s no guarantee we can organize our thoughts so a reader will understand and appreciate them. There are a number of books available, but I started by attending a writer’s conference. The first one’s tough, sort of like the first time you’re introduced to algebra, but eventually it begins to make sense.

2) Learn how to organize your thoughts. I had to take the two inch-thick pile of raw journaling and decide to which aspect of my grieving process it applied. Using this, I put together a table of contents. Then I worried over it a few times until it seemed to flow correctly.

3) Edit, write, edit, write some more. I gleaned nuggets from the piles of material I’d written and used them as starting points for each chapter. I committed my thoughts to paper, giving equal weight to the good and bad decisions I’d made and offering hard-won advice. I had knowledgeable people read the raw material and make suggestions. Then I edited, rewrote, and repeated the process until I was satisfied.

4) Add the finishing touches. In my case, it was adding an appropriate Scripture passage and brief prayer at the end of a chapter. In your case, it might be doing something else. The important thing is to make the work worthwhile and different than anything currently available.

5) Somewhere along the line, you’ll try to sell the work. I was fortunate enough to be able to interest a publisher in The Tender Scar before I had representation by an agent. That’s a rarity now. Also, I’d written the whole book before I shopped it, which made it easier to sell than if I were working from an annotated table of contents and three sample chapters, which is now common in non-fiction work. In any case, this is the next step, and when you take it, you should be prepared for a lot of rejections and a great deal of waiting.

Remember, in all this, the timing is God’s. And even if your book never sells, the writing of it has affected one person: you. You’ll never be the same after organizing your thoughts and committing them to paper. And that’s a good thing.

16 thoughts on “Publishing the Pain

  1. Richard, I knew about your fabulous novels but did not know about this book. I’m ordering it today for a dear friend who just lost her husband. I love how you note in the last paragraph of this post: “… the timing is God’s. And even if your book never sells, the writing of it has affected one person: you …” I know your writing has affected many more people than you’ll ever be able to know. Thanks for writing about such a “tender” part of your life. julie

  2. Richard – love seeing you here AND at Rachelle’s. If anyone knows about writing the pain, it is you, my friend. I read The Tender Scar to help me write a character’s grief more realistically in my debut novel. It was beyond helpful in helping me understand what a person goes through when they lose a spouse.

  3. Thank you for this commonsense advice, Richard. I will read THE TENDER SCAR to help me gain perspective and wisdom as my mother slowly slips away from us, leaving my father to experience the pain and deep sadness of losing a spouse.

  4. Wow! You’re everywhere, this morning, Richard!

    This sounds like great advice, all round. I especially like two of your points. The first is your title, “Publishing the Pain.” I really do think this is an important component, at least for me. It is the one common denominator of the human experience…the one thing that all humans have experienced at some level and that we can relate to in others.

    The second is your final note, “And even if your book never sells, the writing of it has affected one person: you.” I love how you expressed this, and it is so true. I have trouble explaning this sometimes. At this point my book (yes I only have one right now) has less than 100 copies in circulation, and most of those have been givne away, not sold. And yet, as far as I’m concerned, the project is a smashing success, already.

    Yes, I hope to sell more, but it has all been well worthwhile whether I do or not. Why? Because of what I have learned in the process, and because of the nine or ten people who have approached me to say that this little book has made a positive impact on their life.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks for your comments. Even five years after the book was first published (and twelve years after Cynthia’s death), God is using that terrible event in my life to help others in their grief. And, of course, it also led me into writing Christian fiction. We never know what God has in store for us, do we?

  6. Like others, Richard, I knew about your novels but not about this book. How courageous to sift through your heartbreak in hopes of encouraging and comforting others.
    Thank you for this post, which I know will help other writers. But the reach of your book will probably be unknown this side of heaven.

  7. Richard, I didn’t know you had used journals to compose your nonfiction. I’m sure that makes for a *great* book. There’s nothing like the immediacy and detail of a journal to help make writing deep and relevant.

  8. Richard, these are good things to remember…particularly if your novel is never sold. Long before I had the interest of an agent or a publisher in my first fiction novel, a good friend of mine read it and commented about how much it helped her understand what her daughter had gone through after she was sexually assaulted. If that ms never saw print, God used it to speak to that one person and that was so humbling. I do think each book helps us grow as well and maybe that’s the only point of a particular book for that writer during that time. I’m not always great at remembering that.

  9. Richard, I just read you on Rachelle’s blog. It is beautiful to see how God is using your writing as a ministry to others–both in the fiction and non-fiction realm. I have friends who have lost a spouse. I think I’ll recommend your book. I appreciated your sharing how The Tender Scar came to be a published book. Like a commenter above, I appreciate your final note about the writing affecting one person: you (me). It’s so true. Thank you!

  10. Just stumbled across this and your book sounds similar to mine–written from journals kept while my husband suffered through dementia. I will be ordering your book. Finding that many are “out there” wishing they had a book to walk through the process. God is giving me a second book, mulling it around in my head at the time. So glad I found your site.

  11. Your story sounds so much like mine. I don’t know how your wife died, although I do know the pain and suffering that comes from losing a loved one. My husband took his own life and as a suicide survivor, writing in my journal and turning to God for His comfort is how I survived. I have finished my book too after having to go back and relive the suicide all over again. Thank you so much for your advice. I am now in the process of finding an agent with hopes that one day it too will be published. I want to share my story with others who are struggling with the loss of a loved one. God does promise that He will turn our tears of sorrow into tears of joy. I look forward to reading your book.

  12. They say, “write from the heart”, and that’s certainly what you did, Richard. Bravo for sharing your pain to help others. Your writing advice is solid and realistic. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Richard, I’m so thankful for your post today. Not only for your writing wisdom, but letting us know about this wonderful book. I just spoke at a funeral last night where my dear friend just lost his wife of 25 years after battling brain cancer. I’ve gone over to Amazon and just ordered it. A BARGAIN and wonderful ministry for $9.99. I can’t wait to give this to him. Blessings!

  14. I’m touched by the comments. Thanks to all of you. I wrote this post with the idea of sharing some of the things I learned in trying to put together a non-fiction work that would speak to others. Obviously, it resonated with a number of you. I appreciate your reading it and taking the time to comment. If you have a story to tell, don’t put it off. It may never be printed except from your own computer, but sometimes that’s enough. Blessings, all.

  15. Thank you for sharing your process in writing your book. In writing a book, it is critical to write what God directs us to write and trust him with the outcome. As you mentioned, we may end up writing for an audience of one — and if so, we need to be okay with that.

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