Friday, May 30, 2014

Guest Post Heather Shumaker, non-fiction author

How/why did you start to write?

I started writing dictated books as a child before I could read or write.  Luckily, I had teachers who understood that a love of stories and storytelling was far more important than learning the ABCs.  Thanks to them, I became a storyteller first – that all-important skill of developing “voice” before it got smothered by teaching writing.

How did you become an author?

I knew I wanted to be an author by age 4.  It took me a few decades to do it.  One reason it took so long is simply because of my deep admiration for authors. I feared I couldn’t live up to my own high expectations.  It takes “self-confidence guts” to take your writing seriously.  After you do that, you have to take drastic steps to carve out room for writing in your life.  By this I mean a professional attitude toward your writing dreams – plonking down money to attend writing conferences, devoting time to a writing routine, and learning as much as you can about the business of publishing.  For years I thought I’d write when I had more time, but the reality is no one ever has time to write first books.  We are always busy with jobs and raising kids and caring for parents and doing the dishes, and…  We just have to recognize that NOW is the time we have for writing.  For me, that meant getting up early at 5:30am before the kids woke up and writing 1- 1 ½  hours every day.  It also meant paying for daycare so I could spend blocks of time on writing.

I followed the traditional publishing path to become an author.  I spent 2-3 years researching agents and the publishing process, took an online course on writing book proposals, attended ASJA conferences in New York, and joined a writing group.  By the time the information presented in conference sessions and magazine articles about finding an agent began to feel repetitive and “old news,” I knew I was ready.  I sent out 6 queries through the regular slush pile and got 4 agents interested, so I was able to interview them and choose one.  That also told me I was ready.  I think a lot of authors jump too fast and don’t spend time doing their homework.

What was your first published piece? -Where was it published? -How long ago?

My first pieces were “freebie” magazine stories.  No pay, but publication.  My first paid article was an essay about worms in Organic Gardening back in 2000. I was so happy I blew all the money on a plane ticket to Paris.  It was a great reward – to mark that milestone. 

I turned to writing books after magazines cut back their freelancing budgets.  My first book It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids was published by Tarcher/ Penguin in 2012.  I’ve been promoting it ever since and my publisher has just asked for a sequel due out in 2015.

What did you do before embarking on your writing career? Was it an asset to your writing? How?

My work was primarily in the nonprofit world. I worked for 15 years with environmental groups doing land conservation.  I often think this background was a tremendous asset because it made me realize how incredibly busy editors and agents are.  I always felt busy and overworked at the nonprofits and guarded my time carefully.  This background helped me develop professional business skills and helped me approach agents and publishers respectfully. My writing may be creative, but sharing it with the world follows accepted rules of business courtesy.  Nothing new here, but many writers seem to think business can’t coexist with the muse.

What inspires you?

My first book was a parenting book – a renegade one that questions parenting conventions like automatic sharing, saying ‘sorry’ when you don’t mean it, and limiting rough play.  I also write children’s fiction and stories about the environment.  I’m inspired to help those who can’t help themselves – that includes young children and the environment. I think my own life expectancy inspires me; there are so many books I want to write and only a limited time to create them.

Please share one of your successful author platform building techniques

First, you write your book.  Then you speak your book.  I’ve found numerous speaking engagements, which lead to more speaking engagements, and now invitations to headline conferences and be the keynote speaker. But first I had to reach out to local libraries, book clubs, and parent groups and speak for free or for a modest honorarium.  Also, produce quality work and ideas.  Then readers will promote it for you because they get so excited about your book.  My book was chosen as a Best Parenting Book of 2012 by Parents magazine’s, and readers become strong fans.

Parting words

I offer book proposal coaching (for nonfiction authors) and highly recommend working one-on-one with someone to create your first proposal. Nonfiction is easier to break into than fiction, so if you have an interest in both, try starting your publication path with the nonfiction book idea.

Feel free to keep up with author news and renegade parenting ideas through my blog Starlighting Mama and website where you can sign up for a free author newsletter.  Links to popular blog posts include Why we say “No” to Homework and Throw Away your Timer: Why Kids Learn More When They Don’t “Share.”  Or by Facebook at Heather Shumaker Writer.

Buy the book at any bookstore or online.  Plentiful reviews here.

It’s OK Not to Share…

Tired of being the referee?  Eager for new ideas to guide kids through wild emotions and squabbles? “Renegade Parenting” breaks down age-old parenting conventions through 29 renegade rules.  Based on the philosophy of an unorthodox Ohio preschool, this book shares child development principles through a unique blend of forty years on-the-ground experience with evidence from emerging neuroscience.  Learn counterintuitive ideas about sharing, saying ‘sorry,’ coping with angry outbursts, rough play, social rejection, toy weapons and other topics.  Be prepared to change your mind.

"An insightful, sensible and compassionate book full of downright revolutionary ideas." –

"Brilliant. . . . It's OK Not to Share is an enlightening book that will make you take a second look at everything you believe." –

"Rarely do parenting books trigger in me an exhale. But the title alone for Heather Shumaker’s new book came like that rare August breeze." –The Washington Post "On Parenting"

"Did you read the title and think, what the heck? Me, too. Not only did I read it to figure out the title, I underlined about a third–it's that good." –Melissa Taylor,

Heather Shumaker is the author of It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids (Tarcher/ Penguin August 2012), named a Best Parenting Book of 2012 by Parents magazine, and regional bestseller. She’s a speaker, journalist, blogger and advocate for free play and no homework for young children.  She’s been featured on Fox & Friends TV, Huffington Post, New York Post, Parenting,, USA Weekend, Wisconsin Public Radio and other media.  Heather is a graduate of Swarthmore College (BA) and University of Wisconsin-Madison (MS) and the mother of two young children.