Three Keys to New Author Success
When I retired in 2013, having practiced medicine for nearly forty years, I wasn’t ready to entirely leave medicine. So I searched for a new way to help people improve their health. The result was a self-help program called Serenity and Health that I introduced at my church in 2014. Three years later, I launched my website and blog of the same name. This year I published my first book, Pilgrimage: A Doctor’s Healing Journey, about these experiences and my life. In all of this, my message is that there are small steps we can take to help us find our path to better physical and emotional health and closeness to God. There are three keys to new author success that enabled me to translate this message into a self-help program, a blog and, finally, a book. These are passion, people, and technological enhancements.
First Key to New Author Success
1. First and foremost is passion. I have been clear and passionate about my purpose, to help people achieve better health of mind, body, and spirit. My own struggles and the experiences of my patients helped me understand the steps we can take to feel better. My Serenity and Health program led me to write a self-help book, but over time, this morphed into a memoir—in part because I realized a memoir can be more persuasive than a fact-filled self-help book. While I have been consistent about pressing for better health, over the years, my view of what constitutes health has broadened. I learned that emotional and spiritual health play a much larger role in overall health than I previously understood. I love to say that trust in God is the ultimate stress buster—and less stress means you are healthier and feel better. As I promote my message of health and faith through the writing and marketing of Pilgrimage, I have absolute faith I am doing God’s will. Knowing this feeds my passion.
Second Key to New Author Success
2. The second key to my success is other people. As I was writing the acknowledgments for my book, I was flabbergasted to realize how many people helped me during the gestation and birthing of my book. It began with family, friends, neighbors, church members, and colleagues; then other writers, bloggers, social media experts, online writing groups, editors, coaches; and, finally various publishers and experts on indie publishing. Many of these referred me to their contacts for ideas or information. I took a memoir-writing course at the Writers Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and joined a neighborhood writing group. And, as I sat for the first time with other writers joyfully dissecting sentences, exploring point of view, and debating grammar, I felt I had found my “people.” This is where I first heard the classic advice “Show, not tell,” and where I asked questions like “What is an em dash?”
For the record, I paid for some services, including technical and media assistance (from a highly skilled young professional in my neighborhood); an editor to help me with my book proposal; a publishing coach for six months before the release date; and, in December 2020, a hybrid self-publishing company, Luminare, and its team of dedicated professionals. For these various services, I paid fees on an hourly, monthly, or a lump sum basis. Because I am not tech-savvy or experienced as a writer, I needed this support. You might not need this much paid help.
Next came the planning and execution of my book launch in June 2021. Many friends, old and new, spent countless hours helping me spread the word. They shared my passion, and I believe felt they were serving God and their fellow man, not just me.
I’m still a novice, but have made many connections through social media, especially groups—such as a private Facebook group launch team for my book and groups for Christian writers and indie authors, such as the Christian Indie Publishing Associations’s CIPA group on Facebook. The networking provided much more than help and information—it has been a source of encouragement, inspiration, and friendship.
Third Key to New Author Success
3. The third key to my success is what I like to call technological enhancements. After I retired, I switched from a PC to a Mac. With the help of Apple’s helpline and classes, I finally learned how to store my files, use Pages, and get unstuck when I got stuck—which happened often. This created a paradigm shift in my attitude towards computers. Now, I love my computer. Having done research early in my career using paper journals, books, card catalogues, and even microfiche to review old news articles, I am utterly amazed at the miracle of the computer and the ease with which it finds and stores an apparently unlimited amount of information and data!
During my first few years of writing Pilgrimage, my daughter repeatedly urged me to purchase a large monitor. At the time, I was working with a 13-inch laptop screen. I resisted her advice until late 2018, when I finally purchased a 27-inch monitor and was shocked to find out how such a simple piece of equipment could make such a big difference. No more searching for windows lost behind other windows.
There was one more purchase that made a tremendous difference: the software program Scrivener. Jason Sisam wrote glowingly about Scrivener in the May 2021 CIPA blog, and I agree with everything he said. I used Scrivener to write Pilgrimage, and I use it to write my blogs. Being able to have screenshots of previous drafts right at my fingertips makes me feel secure. It is easy to divide my editing screen into two sections and compare different versions—then quickly copy and paste the best parts.
These are the three keys that worked for me. Of the three, I believe the first, passion, was indispensable. Without zeal to spread my message of hope and healing, I fear I would have given up. But the second and third keys, people and technological enhancements, were also crucial as they helped me to learn, create a high-quality book, and enjoy the process.
If you are a writer, what keeps you going? What compelling reason inspires and motivates you to persist to the end? I’ve shared the keys to my writing success. What are yours?
Dr. Donna Chacko practiced radiation oncology and later family medicine. She and her first husband raised three daughters in Florida. After his death, she moved to Washington, DC, where she cared for the poor until 2013. Donna is now retired and lives in Maryland with her second husband and works in the ministry she founded, Serenity and Health. You can find Donna at https://www.serenityandhealth.com/pilgrimage and https://facebook.com/serenityandhealthdc