Over lunch the other day with friends, all in the newspaper business, I mentioned that I occasionally speak at writers’ conferences.
“Everyone has a book in ’em,” I commented, something I most surely believe though they all looked surprised. “They do,” I insisted. “Everyone has a story to tell that is interesting enough to be read by others.”
As Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., poet and doctor, once said, “I have tasted the intoxicating pleasure of authorship.” Many long to do it but they never follow through.
I’m not saying that most people are good writers. That would not be the truth. But I do believe that everyone has a story to tell. And being bold enough to do it is key.
Richard Paul Evans, Rick to his friends, is one of my favorite stories of an ordinary man who found extraordinary success with what he thought was a one-time book. It was a story Rick wrote to entertain his young daughters.
“I wanted them to know the depths of my fatherly love for them,” he told me.
He self-published a few copies, then local stores in his native Utah starting selling it. The book developed a life of its own.
Rick, a most likeable guy, is smart and hard working too. He kept marketing the book.
Lo and behold, “The Christmas Box” became the first self-published book in history to make the coveted New York Times best-selling list. That led to an auction among publishers that resulted in a multi-million dollar book deal, at the time the largest advance paid to a first-time novelist.
That book, which began as a self-published work, became an international bestseller and has sold millions of copies. It even accomplished the incredible feat of simultaneously being number one on NYT’s paperback and hardcover lists. Rick has gone on to write many bestsellers.
My friend, Dottie Benton Frank, was married and living in New York when her childhood home on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina came up for sale. She begged her husband to buy it and he refused.
“It made me so mad,” she recalled. “He could have bought it with just the change that fell into the sofa. He had the money but he wouldn’t do it.”
Dottie, who knew the apparel industry but seemingly nothing about writing books, up and decided she would write a book, sell it and make enough money to buy her childhood home. It sounds almost absurd.
Her first novel, fittingly named “Sullivan’s Island,” became a runaway bestseller, the likes of which was almost hard to imagine. It was a phenomenal success that has led to countless bestsellers. And, yes, she bought that home on Sullivan’s Island.
Jeff Foxworthy, a struggling comedian, was turned down by every publisher possible with a little book of redneck jokes. Finally, a small Atlanta publisher said he would run it for $1,500. Jeff froze.
“I thought he was asking me to pay him $1,500 and I didn’t have that kind of money.”
It was, however, an advance for a book that went on to sell more than four million copies.
These are examples of three friends who hit it big with their books. But I am equally proud of Janet Spurr, an area Bostonian by birth and accent, who made up her mind 10 years ago to publish a book of essays about life on the beach called “The Beach Chair Diaries.”
She self-published and, using her talent as a saleswoman, put it in stores across her native state and did endless appearances to sell the book.
It has never made a bestseller list, but for a decade, she has kept plugging and it has kept selling. I think I am proudest of her. She had a dream and she made it happen.
You can do the same. I hope you will.