Lynda Drews, a Wisconsin native and dedicated runner, recently gave the commencement speech at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, her college Alma mater. One lesson she shared with the graduates was: “to journal your life.”
When Lynda, a marketing executive, made the decision to retire after her thirty-year career, she returned to an earlier passion. Run at Destruction is the outcome.
Lynda and her husband, Jim, a retired guidance counselor and an accomplished runner, have two sons, Collin and Chris, and a golden retriever named Bailey. The family has lived in Green Bay since the mid-seventies and helped launch the local running movement. The city now hosts the nation’s fourth largest 10K, the Bellin Run.
Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Lynda. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
A: In August of 2009, I was published for the first time.
Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
A: Run at Destruction: A True Fatal Love Triangle
Q: For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
A: I utilized Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents to come up with my submission list. I also attended a New York Pitch conference that helped me develop a good query letter. This is what I then e-mailed to about fifty agents/publishers. From this, I received about 30 rejections and 6 requests for my book proposal and/or manuscript. This process started in December of 2006 and by February of 2008, I finally secured a mainstream publisher.
Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
A: Honestly, it was difficult receiving rejection after rejection, especially with the subset that had requested my book proposal/manuscript. One agent that I’d hoped to sign with was like me, a marathon runner, and since my true crime book, about my best friend’s mysterious bathtub drowning, takes place within a tight-knit running group I felt there might be a good match.
She initially thought so, too, but once she realized the story took place in the 80s, she said, “even though the story is fascinating, I don’t feel it would be relevant today.” Her statement became a challenge and I repositioned my book proposal, highlighting this historical U.S. time-period, the running boom of the 80s, when the “average Jane or Joe” started to jog.
Q: When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
A: I was ecstatic when I finally secured a contract directly with TitleTown Publishing that specializes in the True Crime genre. TitleTown is located in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where I live and has a dynamic owner, Tracy Ertl. I was the third title she’d signed, so I felt my book would not get lost in the shuffle of a larger publishing house. I also liked being included on all the workings of getting my book into print. We could meet in person over coffee to work out the details.
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
A: It was amazing to see my name printed on the cover of Run at Destruction and to see the photo of my best friend and running partner on the back. This book has been a labor of love to honor Pamela Bulik’s memory. My excitement was multiplied when my publisher, TitleTown Publishing also released Torture at the Back Forty, a book written by my friend, Mike Dauplaise, on the same day – August 7, 2009. Tracy hosted a book launch party for the two of us at, appropriately, the TitleTown Brewing Company. This blog highlights that particular celebration: http://tinyurl.com/mz62tg
Q: What was the first thing you did for a promotion when you were published for the first time?
A: My true crime book is centered around a three teacher love triangle, from within Green Bay’s running community, that lead to one of the most heavily attended homicide trials in the city’s history. My publisher was able to ship about 800 books to Green Bay before it’s official release date.
This enabled me to promote my book at the Bellin Run in June, which attracted more than 16,000 participants. I was interviewed by the Press-Gazette, and was included in press releases about the pre-race event where I talked about Run at Destruction, sharing the stage with two former Olympians, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Bill Rodgers. I was also provided an expo booth where I sold and signed books. This provided both local and national exposure since the Bellin Run draws participants from across the U.S.
Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
A: No. This has worked out perfectly. I know TitleTown is small, but inside a larger publishing house I don’t feel there would be that intimate relationship between publisher and author. I want to be successful so TitleTown is successful.
Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
A: Run at Destruction was just released in August 2009. So far, it is my only title.
Q: Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
A: I believe I spent too much time fine-tuning my book proposal chapter synopsizes before e-mailing off my query letter. I lost about six-months. Also, in addition to having a good cover design, blurbs are key to having the reader select your book. Before submitting my queries, I was able to contact the best-selling true crime author Ann Rule who said that if I found a publisher she’d read my galley and if she felt my book was something her readers would like, she’d give me a quote. I should have done the same for my running blurbs.
After finding a publisher, and nearing print date I finally secured three, the race directors from the Boston Marathon and the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, and from a U.S. correspondent for Track & Field News. In hindsight, having these available in the proposal stage might have sped up my publisher search since the running endorsements helped validate my book’s relevance.
Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
A: The week after my book’s release I received a Publisher’s Weekly review that said: “this title… relies on the strong bond between author and victim for emotional weight; passages about their shared moments, and Drews’s feelings of emptiness in the decades since, are remarkable.” You can’t help but love the word “remarkable!” That same week I drove up to our local Barnes & Noble Bookstore and in the front window was a display of my books. Usually, this is reserved for authors like Dan Browne or Nicolas Sparks! My book then zoomed to the store’s #1 position.
Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
A: This is actually my second career. I first spent thirty years honing my technical, sales, and marketing skills at IBM. This background certainly aided me in my writing career. I’d always been comfortable with such things as computers, research, creating brochure and web copy, and speaking in front of large groups. But another career that’s forever peeked my interest was that of a criminal or prosecuting attorney. Any book, movie, or TV show that contained a trial had always drawn me in.
Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
A: Surprisingly, I have combined the best of both worlds while also utilizing significant elements from my IBM career to write and now market Run at Destruction. The research I conducted gave me new insight into the criminal attorney career that I never pursued. I immersed myself in boxes of court and police records that pertained to my best friend’s death and the subsequent first-degree murder trial of her husband.
I also gained knowledge by interviewing the detectives, attorneys, judge, coroner, and jurors. Then my IBM background helped me scan and organize the records and voice files that became invaluable as I searched for the truth about my best friend’s death.
Now that I’m published, I’ve become a marketing demon, again drawing on my IBM experience. This phase is key for a first-time author otherwise there will be a slim chance of success! It’s been non-stop, giving television and radio interviews, doing book talks and readings, sending out press releases, arranging reviews, doing e-mail blasts, blogging, twittering, and, of course, social networking through facebook. Who would have figured?
Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?
A: My blog and twitter name says it all: @runnerwritergal. Since I’m officially retired, in addition to enjoying my family, reading, knitting, playing bridge, volunteering and vacationing – running and writing is what I see doing for the rest of my life.
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
A: In addition to determination and enhancing your writing skills to create the perfect manuscript, it’s important to better understand the steps to secure a publisher. One of the workshops I attended allowed me to pitch my book to selected agents and publishing editors. This gave me a much needed reality check and helped guide me down the path to finally realize my dream of becoming a publisher author.