How an Unknown Writer Landed a Big Publisher. Artis Henderson

20140130_190929I know Artis Henderson only as one of a hundred other writers who are members of the Gulf Coast Writers Association. Her readings have been lyrical and personal. Thirty-ish, she is a youngster among the retirees who come to Florida, find time on their hands, and turn to writing mysteries, children’s books, poetry, non-fiction, and many memoirs. Too many memoirs.

But Artis’ memoir is different. It’s about being young and in love. It’s about grief. And it was picked up by Simon and Schuster for publication. An Unremarried Widow made its hard-cover debut January 7, 2014. Many from the writers’ group attended her book signing at Barnes and Nobel in Fort Myers to support her and wish her well. There was standing room only.

I went to support the new author, too, but I also wanted to know how this happened. How did an unknown writer find a traditional publisher so quickly when so many of us have knocked on those doors for years with no success. Here is Artis Henderson’s path to success:

  1. Write a beautiful, well-crafted memoir that resonates emotionally with readers.
  2. Earn your credentials. Artis had been writing short stories and essays for a long time and has been published by Reader’s Digest and The New York Times. She also writes a humorous dating/relationship column in the Florida Weekly newspaper.
  3. Hone your writing skills. Artis earned a graduate degree in journalism. She so impressed one writing professor with her abilities that the teacher insisted Artis contact her agent.
  4. Have an intriguing story and write a flawless book proposal. Over the course of a summer semester, Artis and the professor fine-tuned a proposal for a memoir about a young war widow. The agent loved it, further refined it, and sent it to all the big publishers. Simon and Schuster accepted it immediately and paid an advance — before Artis had even written her story (though she had previously published excerpts).
  5. Use professionals to edit and polish your work. Artis said that writing the “bad parts”, her times of grief, came fairly easy. It was like therapy for her, an outlet. However, she had a harder time writing about the happy times with her husband, Miles. They made her cry. The editor had to pull those ideas and emotions from Artis’s memory.
  6. Market yourself. Even though Simon and Schuster is a big-name publisher, the bulk of the marketing of An Unremarried Widow will be on Artis’ shoulders. She did a nice reading and came across as unassuming and vulnerable. Readers will like her. Most of the audience for her weekly dating column don’t know about her sad story. Soon they will.

I envy the doors that the agent and publisher opened for Artis, the exposure she didn’t have to fight for, the unknowns she didn’t have to explore on her own, and the professional reviewers who gave her work a look. Plunging into that world so fast would scare me to death, I think. I’ve done book signings and public speaking for my novel too. That process is fun. The difference is: I don’t have outside pressure to produce, no publisher expecting me to make them a profit, no one pushing for a second novel. But then Artis Henderson is a brave woman in many ways. I wish her much success.

An Unremarried Woman is available on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, etc. in Kindle and hardcover.

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