Today we are fortunate to meet Jackie Dishner. She is author of Backroads and Byways of Arizona. Like many, Jackie started by journaling and an active imagination and shares how she landed her first book contract and tackled her writing project.
Maralyn: Jackie, please introduce yourself.
Jackie: From the time I was a very young girl growing up in Indiana, I kept journals. And I read a lot. My books and diaries were where I went to escape from the realities of life. Though, I had a skewed sense of what was better than where I was. For instance, after I read about a girl who lived in a boarding school, I wanted to be sent away to one, even though the main character hated it. And I romanticized stories written by Charles Dickens. I would imagine being a character in the story, able to survive whatever troubles befell me. My imagination ran wild. In high school (I lived in Arizona by then), I discovered journalism, and that’s what I later chose to study in college. But I had no idea it would lead me to travel writing (which is one of my specialties) because I actually started my writing career editing a construction magazine. Perhaps that wild imagination has something to do with it, because I’m always looking for the puzzle to solve or the not so well known discoveries to write about for my editors.
Jackie: My book, Backroads & Byways of Arizona, is a guidebook to 12 Arizona backcountry tours, showcasing some of Arizona’s less traveled but equally scenic, interesting and historic spots. For instance, I take readers to a little town called Young, the setting of one of Arizona’s less than pleasant historic moments—the Pleasant Valley War—a subject Zane Grey wrote about in his Western novel called To the Last Man. It’s a favorite spot for retirees, hunters and backcountry hikers. I also take you on a tour of the Salsa Trail in southeastern Arizona. If you love Mexican food, you’d want to read this chapter. It tells you where to find some of Arizona’s best homemade Mexican food. Along the way, I point out where you can find hot springs, a woodcarver’s museum, and the cowboy boots Rex Allen had specially made to play golf. We also take a drive up Mt. Graham—the site of what will be the world’s most advanced optical telescope when it’s completed. All the photographs included in the book are mine.
Maralyn: What important tips or suggestions for other writers can you share about writing and publishing?
Jackie: People will tell you, “Write about what you know.” But I think you should also consider writing about what you want to know more about. That’s how I managed to get my first book contract. There were places in Arizona I’d not yet seen but wanted to, so I pitched the places I wanted to learn more about. For instance, I’d heard of Aravaipa Canyon but had never been there. I’d long wanted to visit the Navajo and Hopi reservations, but wasn’t quite sure how to do that. It was a mystery to me. My book gave me permission to go. My real interest in planning and taking these road trips and learning the history about the towns along the way, and my natural curiosity to explore what might seem like the most mundane, helped sustain me for the entire length of the project and beyond. That kind of sustained passion will help you stay with the project from research to writing to editing to marketing, and then marketing it some more.
Maralyn: How did you publish this book?
Jackie: I went with a traditional publisher and submitted directly to it. As with most things in this business, that was all about networking and connections. I’m a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, which hosts an annual conference in New York. At the conference in 2007, I met one-on-one with the acquisitions editor for The Countryman Press. We discussed a few ideas, and one sounded like a good fit. So I came home and immediately researched and pitched the idea to her. But that one didn’t fly. She came back to me with another idea—a new series the publisher was working on—and asked for a proposal from me on that. Since the first one didn’t work, I asked a friend who’d written a guidebook already for this same publisher if she’d send me a copy of her proposal. She did, and I used it as a model for mine. Two weeks later, I turned in the proposal for Backroads & Byways of Arizona. Within a few months, I had my first book contract.
Maralyn: Have you also added an e-book or CD?
Jackie: I think my publisher could offer an e-book form of this book, but I’ve not seen that on Amazon.com yet. I believe I signed a release to allow that to happen. And I’d love to do a CD for it—an audio tour—but I’m not sure how to go about that. Someone else just asked me about this the other day. So it’s something I might approach the publisher about later, when I have some kind of plan to present.
Maralyn: What have you found to be a successful approach to getting your books sold?
Jackie: In the first few months that my book was out, I’d already earned back half of my advance. I attribute that success to being the shameless self-promoter. In the early days of release and long before, I talked about the book to everyone I knew. Once it arrived, I took the book with me everywhere I went—I can’t tell you how many copies of my book I’ve sold to bartenders or while sitting at a bar—with my book facing up on the bar top. And I was—and still am—highly active on the social media networks. I blog, I tweet, I update. The cover of my book is my avatar on Facebook. I’m carrying the book in the photo I use on LinkedIn. It might seem overdone, but I do whatever it takes to keep the book’s name out there. And I try to find places where I can have book events, rather than book signings. I utilize associations, because people you know will buy your book. I’ve sold up to 67 in one morning that way. I’ve had a wine & sign event, where almost 50 people paid to come hear me talk and buy my book. And I’ve also partnered with two other guidebook authors. Together, we created a travel talk that we’re pitching for meetings and events. Collaborating helps reduce the workload and cost, and it’s more fun to do this kind of thing as a team.
Maralyn: What did you find to be the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Jackie: I was most challenged by the writing itself. I’d never written a long-form project like this before. I’d always written articles—and these days, most of them are not that long. So the idea of writing a book intimidated me to no end. I got through the first chapter okay, which I needed to turn in about three months before the project was due. And that was well received. I was on the right track. But it took me another month before I could move on to the next chapter.
I was so overwhelmed by the idea that I had to write a whole book. I did a lot of pacing instead of writing. I did a lot of fretting. Finally, I had to resort to the lesson I’d learned at a writers’ workshop at Kenyon College from short story author Ron Carlson. He said if you’re going to write you just have to stay in the chair. So I sat down. And I wrote. I still fretted. I still couldn’t imagine how I could divide 60,000 words up into doable parts and still write enough to get me finished in time. And I still had to write captions and prepare all the photos—more than 100 of them! I finally decided to take it one chapter at a time, like Anne Lamott might have done. And I made it.
The last two weeks were plain awful, and I cried a lot. I was working ridiculous hours by then, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., every single day, including weekends, in order to meet my deadline. And I didn’t do what a lot of writers will do, and what I was advised to do—divide the word count up into the number of days you have left. What if I didn’t write 2,000 words every day? What if I only wrote 500? That would mean I’d have 1,500 more to write the next day. Egads! That just stressed me out. So I wrote and worked by the chapter. Essentially, it was the same thing. But I had to play a different mind game. Luckily, my friends were kind enough to bring me food, otherwise I wouldn’t have eaten at all during those last two Marathon weeks. Then, I gave myself the best gift ever. I FedExed the completed manuscript on my 40th birthday.
Maralyn: What is your approach to research?
Jackie: I approach the research the same as I do with most projects. I gather articles and secondary information first, much of it can be done online now. Then, I start calling sources to get more detail or to explain more fully what I’ve read and get their input. That usually leads to better information that might not be known about yet. And when I hit the towns, I ask the locals for their recommendations or their thoughts about the area in which they live. I want to get that insider perspective and be able to capture the truest sense of place. I almost never leave a site without a new book in hand, something written from the local perspective. There’s so much more I could do, though, if I had the time. But these cannot be endless projects. You have to stop the research at some point. I am flexible, however. As I may go in with a specific plan or idea, but I never feel like I have to stick to that if something better shows up.
Maralyn: What have you learned about yourself from writing this book?
I learned I can do whatever it is I set my mind to do. If you can get through a project that lasts two years or more and still want to do another one like it, that says something about your staying power and persistence. I also learned that I have more books inside of me left to write. I never knew that before. And I learned that I’m pretty good at selling and getting people excited about my projects. I have an innate passion that serves the book author well. I don’t want to lose that.
I’ve also learned that you have to play a key roll in promoting your own book. There’s no way around it. If you’re going to write a book, you’re going to be responsible for selling it, too. So I make sure to let the publisher know everything I’m doing to promote the book. I periodically send long lists of what I’ve done. I want them to know that I’m working hard for them. I want them to be my partner in the book project. And I think it helps. I they do more for you this way.
Maralyn: What are you doing to promote and market your book?
Jackie: Aside from using the social media networks to talk up the book—I think you have to use them if you want to sell books these days—and write updates about the book’s chapters, I’m now using my mailing lists to gear up for a one-year celebration. The book will be out for one full year in October, and I’m working on a marketing blast to celebrate the success of the book so far. And I’m bringing out the book again. I went through a heavy duty push during the first six-months, and then I had to take a break and work on selling magazine articles again, you know, go back to earning a living. But now, I’m ready for the push again. I’m taking the book with me more often, sending out promotional postcards, carrying the postcards around with me to pass on to other people or tack up on public bulletin boards, and attending more live network opportunities. I’m going to hit the association meeting circuit again. So if you know of any Rotary or women’s clubs out there who would want to hear some Arizona travel stories, have them give me a call.
Maralyn: Where can readers learn more about your book?
You can learn more about me and my book, Backroads & Byways of Arizona here:
BIKE BLOG: http://www.bikewithjackie.blogspot.com
TRAVEL BLOG: http://www.arizonatravelandadventure.com
FOLLOW ME: http://twitter.com/bikelady
Jackie’s interview shows the persistence necessary in writing. Frequently, people think it as a quick process. Brenda and I have co-authored 3 books, and written numerous articles, together and separately. The entire process is not fast, even though the words may flow easily. Thank you Jackie for an insightful interview.
If any of you want to be interviewed, please let me know if you would like the author/writers questions, or the writer/blogger questions. You can email: firstname.lastname@example.org.