Loren Stephens of Write Wisdom On How To Grow Your Business or Brand By Writing A Book
Network: make polite use of every group you belong to whether it be a professional organization or your high school alumni association. I gave away copies of my book at my high school reunion, and one of my classmates gave my book to two fabulous podcasters who invited me to be on their radio program, “The Balance Life.” I am now helping the hosts write a book about this subject drawing from a wide array of guests they have had on their show over the past three years. Amazing!
As a part of our series about “How You Can Grow Your Business or Brand By Writing A Book”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Loren Stephens, President of Write Wisdom.
Loren Stephens is the founder and president of Write Wisdom, a professional book writing firm specializing in ghostwriting for top business leaders. Her author clients include Jeff Pink (founder of ORLY International), John Galardi (founder of the Wienerschnitzel fast food chain), and Primetime Emmy Award-winning TV director Jeff Margolis (The Oscars). The softcover version of her critically acclaimed 2021 debut novel “All Sorrows Can Be Borne,” will be available in softcover later this year. Stephens is a former book editor and a widely published essayist, with her work frequently appearing in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, MacGuffin, and the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, to name a few. A former documentary filmmaker, Stephens garnered a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for PBS’ “Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist,” narrated by Burt Lancaster.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about what motivated you to become an expert in the particular area that you are writing about?
It started as a personal passion. I wanted to help my mother [Carol Rubin Meyer] write her memoir. I saw her adventurous life as emblematic of the changing role of women in the twentieth century. She was born in 1915, graduated college, married, gave up her aspirations to become an opera singer to raise a family. Later, she went back to school and became an expert in pre-Columbian artifacts, collected post-Impressionist paintings, and was an archivist at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was selected a member of the Society of Women Geographers, having traveled to over 40 countries. When her book, “I Turned a Key and the Birds Began to Sing,” was published it became an instant “best seller” among her friends, colleagues, and our family. Soon after, I started getting calls asking if I could help people write their own stories and suddenly, I was in the book-writing business. Turns out, everyone has a story to tell but not quite sure how to do it or the time. That’s where I come into the story.
Can you share a pivotal story that shaped the course of your career?
I don’t have a pivotal moment that shaped my career, rather it’s my ongoing curiosity which has driven my career path, and a can-do attitude. But all my experiences inform my work today, helping successful people bring their legacies to life. For example, through my company Write Wisdom, we’ve been privileged to work with top leaders in business and entertainment. I like to think my former careers as an executive for a major mortgage banking firm and producer of documentary films and live theater give me an edge in understanding how to listen, learn, and craft the most accessible and compelling books with our clients. Of course, my past life as an editor with a legacy publisher and my ongoing work as a novelist and essayist helps, too!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Are you working on any new writing projects?
One of the best things about my jobs, which also feeds my curiosity, is working with a diverse client roster. Together with members of my team at Write Wisdom, I am working on several book projects which are at various stages. We are very proud to be collaborating with Emmy Award-winning legendary TV director Jeff Margolis on his fabulous Hollywood memoir, “We’re Live in 5,” with a foreword by Billy Crystal, to be published by a division of Simon & Schuster.
Another of our projects is a memoir for a German-born American attorney who was hidden by French nuns and priests in World War II. Yet, a third project is a novel set in a small North Carolina town in the heart of tobacco country.
Thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you please tell us a bit about your book? Can you please share a specific passage or story that illustrates the main theme of your book?
There are those who say that the story finds you. In my case, I “married” the story. “All Sorrows Can Be Borne,” is based on my Japanese American husband’s [Dana] family. The novel’s heroine, Noriko, is a fictionalized version of his mother, Noriko, who survives the bombing of Hiroshima, gives up her aspirations to become an actress, and takes on the role of “tearoom waitress” in Osaka where she meets and marries the handsome and mysterious manager, Ichiro. She becomes pregnant while her beloved husband is diagnosed with tuberculosis. After giving birth to her baby, she is forced to go back to work, and her husband’s condition worsens. He asks her to give up their child, Hisashi, and she does so in the belief that this sacrifice will somehow save her husband, but her magical thinking is not fulfilled. She is left a widow and loses her son to his older sister living in the badlands of Montana. I wrote “All Sorrows Can Be Borne,” to try and understand how a mother could give up her only child and how the prevailing economic and social events in Japan before, during and after the war, affected this decision. Here is a short excerpt:
Ichiro told me our son would be better off living with his sister and her husband in America. I was too weak to argue with him. My mother said I had lost my mind to give up my child. Her judgment was cruel, but I knew she was right.
”You are like a monk for three days,” she said.
What do you mean?”
“You give up too easily…”
“Ichiro says I am selfish to want to hold on to Hisashi. He sneers and says, ‘What kind of life can we offer him?’ I have no answer.” I cannot testify that this is exactly how the argument with my mother went, but I did not ask for her help or turn to my brother or sister. I felt too ashamed of the situation Ichiro and I found we were in even if was no one’s fault.
You are a successful author and thought leader. Which three character traits do you feel were most instrumental to your success when launching your book? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The first is perseverance. Landing a publisher is akin to hitting a bullseye from 5,000 feet above the earth, but finding the right fit is equally important. When I started shopping my manuscript around, I was thrilled when a publisher was immediately interested. I must preface this next part by saying that I was set on my title, “All Sorrows Can Be Borne,” taken from a beautiful line by Karen Blixen who wrote “Out of Africa” under the pen name Isak Dinesen. The publisher insisted on changing it. I pride myself on being a great collaborator, but I couldn’t see how his idea had anything to do with my novel. So, I asked him why he choose it. He said, “It will make the book easier to sell.” Obviously, marketing is critical, but so is authenticity. That was a red flag. We decided to part ways. Believe me, it was hard to walk away, because I know the odds of getting a publisher, but with perseverance you will find your right fit.
Secondly, you must be ready for rejection. And saying that, it’s key that you understand that every “no” is one step closer to a “yes”. But use your “rejections” wisely. In other words, if a publisher or literary agent gives you a reason for a “pass,” look at it carefully, and without emotion. Is there something to what they are saying? Sometimes there is, sometimes not, but it’s free expert feedback.
Third, go with the flow. What I mean is look around and see what’s happening in the world, and if possible, time your book launch to go with the flow of a season or big event. It’s an opportunity to appeal to the media looking for interesting articles and guests timed to the season or celebration. For example, my book explores Japanese American relations. I released my novel in May because its Asian Pacific Heritage Month.
In my work, I have found that writing a book can be a great way to grow a brand. Can you share some stories or examples from your own experience about how you helped your own business or brand grow by writing a book? What was the “before and after picture?” What were things like before, and how did things change after the book?
Writing my own novel, “All Sorrows Can Be Borne,” was extremely meaningful to me personally. I am so grateful it received some wonderful accolades and reviews, but it added another level of credibility to my business, too.
If a friend came to you and said “I’m considering writing a book but I’m on the fence if it is worth the effort and expense” what would you answer? Can you explain how writing a book in particular, and thought leadership in general, can create lucrative opportunities and help a business or brand grow?
Writing a nonfiction book that focuses on your career and area of expertise is a lasting calling card for your business. It creates speaking opportunities and establishes you as an expert. And when you speak to various groups, it brings people up to the front of the room. You have a book to give them or to sell to them, and it gives you an efficient way to understand what their needs and concerns are and how you might pitch your services. Even if they don’t buy your book or want it, have a nice postcard size card available to give to them and a way for them to get in touch with you later. You never know when your next client may appear. One of our clients distributed his book, “Drive-Thru Life: The Story of John Galardi, Founder of Wienerschnitzel,” to his vendors and their franchisees for free. It is a fantastic way to share the history of the company, and to make them feel part of a company with a long tradition.
What are the things that you wish you knew about promoting a book before you started? What did you learn the hard way? Can you share some stories about that which other aspiring writers can learn from?
I think I was well prepared to promote my book and I have shared lessons learned with my author clients. Not all these lessons apply to each book. For example, in the case of “All Sorrows Can Be Borne,” I excerpted chapters from the novel and submitted them to literary journals for publication to create buzz and establish myself as a credible and serious author. I hired a book publicist roughly six months prior to the launch of my novel because there are “long lead” publications that are important in selling a book. I researched podcasters who were in the same space as my novel: historical novel readers, readers of Asian culture and history, family sagas, and so forth. I also created a website for myself as a novelist separate and apart from my work as a ghostwriter with a contact page so that if someone wanted to invite me to participate in a book festival or speak at an event, it was easy to do so. Authors need to identify affinity groups where their books will resonate. For example, if you are writing a book about being a woman motorcycle rider in Australia, look for organizations of women adventurers, motorcyclists, etc. as well as popular magazines looking for articles about an adventurous woman touring the Outback. That’s what our author client Linda Dodwell did for her memoir, “The Road Taken: Men, Motorcycles and Me,” and it was a big success.
Based on your experience, which promotional elements would you recommend to an author to cover on their own and when would you recommend engaging an expert?
Social media is an important way to promote your book. Figure out which platforms you are most comfortable with and commit to regularly posting comments. In my case, I particularly like LinkedIn and Facebook.
Without exception, it is important to hire a book publicist. Learn what their strategy is to get your book out there, see if you are comfortable with their approach, and take the long view. Anticipate hiring a publicist for a year. Even if your publisher is one of the five legacy publishers, you might benefit from having your own publicist, but if so, be sure that they are coordinating their efforts. It’s not a good look to have your publicist and your publisher contacting the same journalist. Figure out how your team can work together most effectively and make sure that there is a way for everyone to stay in the loop and communicate with one another, including you.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your own experience and success, what are the “five things an author needs to know to successfully promote and market a book?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1. Network: make polite use of every group you belong to whether it be a professional organization or your high school alumni association. I gave away copies of my book at my high school reunion, and one of my classmates gave my book to two fabulous podcasters who invited me to be on their radio program, “The Balance Life.” I am now helping the hosts write a book about this subject drawing from a wide array of guests they have had on their show over the past three years. Amazing!
2. Print (and create a digital) a postcard with the cover of your book on the front and select blurbs and awards on the back. Take it with you everywhere — including your phone! I was chatting with our local cleaners, and I mentioned my book. He said, “My son loves historical novels.” He went out and bought it. I did the same thing with someone at my bank. Do it politely and gently. With permission, you can leave your postcard at local bookstores, and be sure to befriend the book sellers. I launched “All Sorrows Can Be Borne,” at Diesel Books in Brentwood/Los Angeles over zoom. Ninety-five people “showed up.” It was thrilling!
3. Create an email newsletter for your company. I have about 2,000 subscribers including the high school classmates, college friends, and people I’ve met at various writing workshops over the years. My newsletter includes a short piece of advice about the writing life, what the Write Wisdom team is up to, what’s happening with my clients, and a short entry at the end about an artist, writer, conference or whatever that interests me and that I want to share with my readers. For example, my sister, Lois Gold, is an artist. I often feature one of her paintings. My cousin, Elizabeth Fishel, is a memoirist and a writing teacher and I give her writing retreats a shoutout as well as her essays which often appear in women’s glossies.
4. Find book festivals where your book may be a good fit. For example, I was invited to the Montana Book Festival because several chapters of “All Sorrows Can Be Borne,” take place in the badlands of Montana. The person who interviewed me is the Chair of the Creative Writing Department at the University of Montana in Missoula, and I am a big fan of her memoir, “Breaking Clean,” about growing up on a ranch in Montana.
5. Always say “thank you” when someone features you in an article, on a podcast, etc. This may seem obvious but it’s worth mentioning.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them.
French president Emmanuel Macron. I am a Francophile, and my next novel takes place in New York and Paris. I’m taking French lessons and meeting him would be a good way to practice my French, don’t you agree? I’d also like to share with him my love for his country and some of the exciting adventures I had as a young woman traveling through France. I’d also like to chat with him about marrying someone much older than him. My husband is seventeen years younger than I am so it would be interesting to get his perspective. I’m kidding, but not really!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I have two websites, www.writewisdom.com and lorenmstephens.com. I am also on LinkedIn as Loren Stephens and Facebook if you search Write Widsom.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.