Welcome to another of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author Dawn Dais. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Dawn: Hello there, I’m based out of Sacramento, California, USA, where I was born and raised. I came to be a writer when I was a kid, then a published writer after I trained for a marathon and turned my mediocre running skills into a funny book (The Nonrunner’s Marathon Training Guide for Women).
Morgen: You clearly write non-fiction from life, how do you decide what to write about?
Dawn: As I mentioned, my first book was inspired by my training for a marathon. While I was training I was sending out humorous updates to my friends and family, documenting my transformation from the laziest person on the planet to the laziest person on the planet who had completed a marathon. It was a transformation full of humor (and quite a bit of cussing as well). I received quite a bit of positive feedback on those updates so I decided to try to turn them into a book. That book went on to be pretty successful because it mixes my real life tales with a little advice and a lot of heart. That blend seems to be my goal for most of my non-fiction writing, so I’m always looking for subjects that I can write about in that way. When I had my first child and went through the insanity that is parenthood, I realized that experience would naturally make a great book.
Morgen: Humour is certainly popular, and very hard to capture, and parents will always want to read about other parents’ experiences. You’ve mentioned two books so far, what have you had published to-date?
Dawn: I have three books published, The Nonrunner’s Marathon Training Guide for Women, The Noncyclist’s Guide to the Century and Other Road Races, and The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby’s First Year. They are all in their own way about crazy challenges I take on and the humor I find along the way.
Morgen: 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Dawn: All of my books are available as eBooks and I’m about 50/50 on what I read. eBooks are definitely more convenient, especially for a mom, and most especially for a breastfeeding mom. I specifically wrote my baby book with the thought that it would be a perfect book for new moms to read while doing late night feedings. eBooks are great middle of the night companions.
Morgen: I have to say I love them for their portability (and they are so easy to get online). Did you choose the titles / covers of your books?
Dawn: Well, I came up with the title for the third book after getting out-voted on the titles for my first two books. The original title for my running book was From Recliner to Race Day and the original title for my cycling book was Spinning Your Wheels. I liked both of those titles a lot better than the titles that are on the books, but the sales department apparently wanted every searchable word in my titles, to help people find the books. With my third book I thought The Sh!t No One Tells You was a great title and immediately made the book relatable to anyone who has ever brought a baby home. I fought for that title and was able to get it on the actual book.
As far as the designs go, my publisher was really open to my suggestions for the covers of all my books and their designers did a great job coming up with the final product. Ultimately they have a much better idea what a solid book cover design looks like and I like all my book covers.
Morgen: I think you have to hope that marketing departments know what they’re doing. I like catchy titles (including the ones you wanted) although your books do sound like they are what they say on the cover. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Dawn: I have a toddler and a five-month-old baby at home, so at the moment I’m working on getting sleep. After that I will probably start on the follow up to my Sh!t book and hopefully finish a novel at some point soon. I’m excited to jump over into fiction and at the same time very scared, which means it’s definitely something I need to do.
Morgen: The only non-fiction I write is about writing (and usually about writing fiction) so fiction is my comfort zone. The great thing about it (which I said to a lapsed-writer friend only tonight) is that you can get the germ of an idea and your brain / the characters will take over. My writing is constantly surprising (generally pleasantly) me. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Dawn: I do not write every day, life always seems to get in the way. I’m hoping once my kids are both in school I can make writing an every day activity. But until then I’m trying my hardest to balance work with spending as much time as I can with them while they are young, and before they don’t want anything to do with me.
Whenever I start a new project I always have a very big case of writer’s block and am terrified that I will never write another word again. It’s a funny thing, because it happens every time and every time I’m convinced that this time it isn’t writer’s block, it’s just the end of my ability to write. Once I get over that initial hump I usually get into a nice groove until the end, with of course occasionally staring blankly at the screen, wondering if I’ll ever translate a coherent thought into written word again.
Morgen: 🙂 That’s the trouble; most people worry too much and it stops them from relaxing and just seeing what comes out. It’s different if you have time pressures (e.g. writing deadlines) but then sometimes deadlines make us produce our best stuff. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Dawn: The only reason I have had any success as a writer is because I was lucky enough to find an agent. Without her I would not have gotten my first book published, I know that for a fact. Funny story, I actually found my agent on Craigslist, doesn’t that sound professional?
I had decided I wanted to write a book, so I researched how to go about getting published. I found out that in order to sell a nonfiction piece of work I needed to write a book proposal, not the actual book. After I got my book proposal to a place where I thought it was perfect I went in search of an agent. I put a couple ads on craigslist in different cities, with the title “Humor book in search of agent.” About a month later an agent who was going out on her own contacted me and asked me to send her my (perfect) proposal. She really liked my writing but informed me that my proposal was crap (in not so many words). She spent the next year going back and forth with me, getting my proposal to a sellable point. She sold it two weeks after she got it to that point.
In the future I may explore self-publishing, but my initial goal with my first book was traditional publishing. If that is the ultimate goal of a writer then I believe he or she must have an agent. A good agent will have contacts with publishers that a writer will not. They will also know which publishers are the best fit for each book that is being pitched. Equally important, an agent will provide hand-holding and guidance throughout the contract portion of the sale and make sure the writer isn’t getting screwed in the fine print.
Morgen: I’ve never been on Craigslist but I’ve heard (generally) good things about it and if it works, why not (like online dating). Do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Dawn: Beyond frequently posting to Facebook and Twitter and the occasional HuffPost blog, I don’t do much to market myself. When I have a book out I always hire a publicist to get the word out, and I think that is a very important piece of the publishing puzzle that people often don’t think about. Even if you are published by a traditional publisher you will not get a lot of marketing attention from your assigned publicist. They have a very long list of books to promote and cannot devote a tremendous amount of time to each author. Therefore it is important for authors to take marketing into their own hands (or in my case, put it into the hands of a publicist for at least a couple months).
Morgen: I’ve never had a publicist guest blog for me. I think a lot of people would find an insight into that aspect of the business fascinating. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Dawn: My favourite aspect of writing life is when I get to hold the completed book in my hands for the first time. There is something tremendously rewarding about holding your hard work and having something tangible to show for it.
My least favourite part of my writing life is probably the fact that writing isn’t a bigger part of my life or that I haven’t figured out a way to make it my sole source of income. I would love to devote more time to writing, because I enjoy it so much, but also because it is one of those skills that can really improve if it’s done repeatedly.
Morgen: That’s what I tell beginning writers; it’s all about practice. We wouldn’t be sat in front of a piano or canvas and be told to play a concerto / paint a masterpiece. It takes time and effort. 300 words a day is a 100,00-word novel in a year. It’s so (though not necessarily easily) doable. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Dawn: There is no such thing as an aspiring writer, because aspiring to be a writer is not like aspiring to be in the NFL. If you want to write, then write. Bam! You are no longer aspiring, you just are a writer. Actually starting to write seems to be the biggest stumbling block for people who say they want to write, whether it be a book or a blog. Whenever anyone tells me that they want to write a book I will give them advice on selling a non-fiction versus fiction book, I offer to take a look at their proposal or their manuscript when they finish and even to pass it along to my agent if it’s good. And yet, I have still never had anyone actually send me a completed proposal or manuscript. Writing is a lot of work and I find that not many people are interested in doing the work, they just want to jump to the part where they are holding their book in their hands. But doing the work is what makes holding the book feel like such an accomplishment.
Morgen: And it’s fun. I’d love to be able to afford (although she’d probably not appreciate it) to just spend my time writing and passing on my first draft to my editor, then get cracking with the next one. I write pretty quickly (I’ve come very late to NaNoWriMo this year, not really starting until the 25th November (with just 3,575 words done in the twenty-four days up to then). When this interview goes live, on the final day of NaNoWriMo, I’ll be at c.40,000 with the final 10K to do on day 30. I did 10K on days 27, 28 and 29 so it’s doable). Finally, where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Thank you very much for joining me today, Dawn. It was great to meet you.
I then invited Dawn to include a sample of her writing and this is the introduction excerpt from The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby’s First Year…
At some point during the first few weeks with their new bundle of joy, every parent will most likely utter / scream / sigh / cry out into the night, “I had no idea it was going to be this hard!” This is because a vast conspiracy exists to hide the truth from all whom have yet to bring home a baby, for fear that if the truth were to get out people would (1) stop having babies, or (2) stop bringing them home. I am here to end that silence. And replace it with a lot of bitching.
Before I had a baby I would see those Johnson & Johnson commercials where a mom is gleefully giving her perfect and beautiful smiling baby a bath in the sink. Splashing and giggles ensue. The tagline for the commercial is “Having a baby changes everything.” I used to well up with emotion when I watched that commercial, knowing that when I had a baby she would change everything too. And by “changes everything” I thought they meant “changes the things you clean in the sink.” Turns out by “everything,” they actually mean “everything, as in your entire life, we are not joking.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love my child deeper than I ever thought I had the capacity to, but it’s not all giggles and playful splashing. I actually think the most difficult part of new parenting is the conflicting emotions you feel, and your fear of even acknowledging those different emotions, let alone sharing them. I felt guilty that I wasn’t loving every second and that I didn’t look or feel anything like I thought an ecstatic new mother should.
Of course, I had expected it to be hard, but somehow not this hard. I blame my lack of information on my friends who had children before me. When I told them I was pregnant all I heard was, “Congrats!” and “Yippee!!” Never did any of them say, “Hold on to your f’n hat. Shit’s about to get real.” Sure, it would have been the first time any of them had ever said, “Shit’s about to get real,” but I feel like it would have been the perfect time to christen the phrase.
So that is what I’ve set out to do with this book. Warn you about all the shit no one is telling you. My intention is not to frighten you or to scare you off having children. My hope is to give you what I didn’t have: the ability to say, “I am not the only parent in the history of the planet to have their asses handed to them by something they could fit in a purse.” Knowing you are not alone actually helps a little. Trust me, misery does love company, especially during 3 a.m. feeding sessions.
So let’s head out on this parenting adventure together, shall we? There will be ups, downs, tears, and vomit. And that’s just the childbirth. Because, as I warned you before, shit’s about to get real . . .
And a synopsis of the same book…
Pregnancy is a time of showers, special parking spots, and mandatory overeating. Then the actual baby arrives and all those good times come to a screeching halt and are replaced with sleep deprivation and spit up. This is when new mothers realize that their previous nine months full of cheerful well wishes and adorable onesies left them profoundly unprepared for their first year with a real life baby.
In The Sh!t No One Tells You, Dais tells it like it is. Eschewing the adorableness that oozes out of other parenting books, Dais offers real advice from real moms—along with hilarious anecdotes, clever tips, and the genuine encouragement every mom needs in order to survive the first year of parenthood.
Dawn Dais is a freelance writer, designer, and filmmaker from Sacramento, CA. Her two previous books, The Nonrunner’s Marathon Guide for Women and The Noncyclist’s Guide to the Century and Other Road Races, were published by Seal Press, have topped Amazon.com best-seller lists, and have been featured by countless TV and print media sources. Her uniquely sarcastic yet inspiring tone has entertained and guided an enthusiastic core of readers towards their various ridiculous athletic goals.
Dawn’s most recent book The Sh!t No One Tells You is a funny and informational book about the joys (and cussing) of parenthood. Dawn lives in Sacramento, CA, with her family.
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