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 said. This is something I truly believe, but 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 true. But I do believe that everyone has a story to tell, and telling it well becomes a practice — as does being bold enough to tell it.
Richard Paul Evans — Rick to his friends — is the subject of one of my favorite stories. He’s an ordinary man who found extraordinary success with what he thought was a one-time-only book. It was a story for his young daughters that Rick wrote to entertain them.
“I wanted them to know the depths of my father’s love for them,” he told me. He self-published a few copies, and 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-seller list. That led to an auction among publishers that resulted in a multi-million-dollar book deal — the largest advance ever paid to a first-time novelist at that time.
That book became an international best-seller and has sold millions of copies. It even accomplished the incredible feat of simultaneously being No. 1 on the NYT’s paperback and hardcover lists. Rick has gone on to write many best-sellers.
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 best-seller, the likes of which was almost hard to imagine. It was a phenomenal success that has led to countless best-sellers. And, yes, she bought that home on Sullivan’s Island.
Jeff Foxworthy, a struggling comedian with a little book of redneck jokes, was turned down by every publisher possible. Finally, a small Atlanta publisher said he would publish 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!” he said. It was, however, an advance for a book that went on to sell more than 4 million copies.
These are examples of three friends who hit it big with their books, but I am equally proud of Janet Spurr, a Bostonian by birth and accent, who made up her mind 10 years ago to publish a book of essays about life on the beach. It is called “Beach Chair Diaries.” She self-published and, using her talent as a sales person, put it in stores across her native state and did endless appearances to sell the book. It never made a best-seller list, but for a decade, she has plugged and it keeps 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.
Rich is the author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin.’” Go to www.rondarich.com to sign up for her newsletter.