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Reclaiming JoyThree weeks from today, I will be sitting at a table in the Waco Convention Center autographing copies of my memoir, Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows, for the very first time; and I will have my book to add to my bookshelf. How naive I was when I started!

Earlier this week I scrolled through my old blogs just to be sure I don’t repeat myself in the next few weeks. I was amused by my very first blog, when I assumed that (a) the book was almost done and that 50,000 words was my target; and (b) I would write my book proposal, an agent would jump at the point to represent it and a publisher, to publish it. In fact, I marvel that I am finally at the point of publishing a memoir of about 61,000 words. Like my journey from grief to joy, the path from first draft to trade book is long and hard.

April 29, 2015—One year ago, I sat down at my old desk in the bedroom—not the one where I do all my “Lev work”—and I started to write a book. Being an “author” was never my ambition. While I have been putting words on paper most of my life (and since 1982, on the computer screen), I never considered writing in the long form. I am a journalist by training. I can whip out 1,000 words in my sleep. Multiplying that by 50 is a very different experience. Having never taken a creative writing course, having never read a book about writing, I did not have any idea of what I was getting into. Looking back, I have probably done everything wrong, in the wrong order.

Here I am in May 2015, working my way through the fourth—and hopefully, final—rewrite of what has slowly grown to a 47,000-word manuscript, Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows. (To compare: this blog has 566 words.) Now, my successful writer friend and coach tells me that it is time for me to prepare The Book Proposal. I have read books on how to write The Book Proposal. I will send this document to prospective agents and eventually to prospective editors. My success or failure in (a) attracting an agent and (b) getting a book contract may be more dependent on how well I sell myself in The Book Proposal than on the quality of my writing.

I must devise a marketing plan, and I need to develop a “platform.” That is a fancy way to say that in today’s publishing environment, writers are expected to attract prospective book buyers before their books are published. They/we must establish a strong social media presence. We must blog. Had I know a year ago about the self-promotion required, I might never have started to write. But I didn’t…so here I am with a new website and supposedly daily blog at I have a new, public Facebook page. (Please “like” me.) I have new Twitter, Pinterest and Linkedin accounts. I am learning Picmonkey in order to edit photos for the web.

During the past year, I shared some of my writing experiences with my Facebook friends. In the future, I will post my writing, widowhood and travel misadventures on all these new, public venues. My old Facebook page will stay private—for friends only—where I will continue to rant about politics, religion and Baylor athletics and where I will continue to share my private times with family and friends.

I have one big question: When developing and managing social media takes so much time, how in the world am I supposed to find time every day to write? Right now, the tail is wagging the dog.

My reading list on writing:
  • Keys, Ralph. The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear. New York: Holt. 1995
  • — The Writer’s Book of Hope: Getting from Frustration to Publication. New York: Holt. 2003
  • Herman, Jeff and Deborah Levine Herman. Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why. 2nd ed. New York: Wiley. 2001
  • Larsen, Michael. How to Write a Book Proposal. Rev. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest. 1997
  • Kephart, Beth. Handing the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir. New York: Penguin. 2003
  • Casey, John. Beyond the First Draft: The Art of Fiction. New York: Norton. 2014
  • Godwin, Gail. Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir. New York: Bloomsbury. 2015

Please share your advice, recommendations and experiences on writing, book proposals, blogs and social media.

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Book launch update:

Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows, published by 1845 Books, an imprint of the Baylor University Press, will be released September 15. Ella will speak and sign books at:

  • 3:30 p.m., Friday, September 14, at Moody Library #104, Baylor University, Waco;
  • 3 p.m., Friday, September 28, at Neyland Library, 1230 Carmel Parkway, Corpus Christi.

Visit Ella’s book page to order a book online, read her latest reviews and interviews and see her schedule of upcoming events.