Life Lessons Found Through an Author’s Journey

Penny S. Tee Article

I love listening to authors tell about their writing journeys. No two are ever the same—how could they be? I was delighted as Janet F. Williams, triple-award winning self-help book author of You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get: Proven Techniques to Get More Out of Life and also, Superior: Adventure Romance, published under her pen name, Zoe Amos, shared her publishing adventures emphasizing how you can position yourself for a better outcome.

She teaches creative writing workshops at the Southern California Writer’s Conference and elsewhere. Janet also edits manuscripts, writes and edits business materials, and speaks on a variety of topics. In her spare time, she likes to write the stories she wants to read.

As Janet began her speech intimating that she “had careers instead of children,” I prepared myself to be informed as well as amused. Woven throughout her speech about the writer’s life was a unique blend of a person’s journey gleaning lessons along the way – all worth heeding. Janet talked about how you set yourself up in life often for what you do later…you take baby steps along the way. Then you put yourself in a position to where you want to go.

I speak frequently of how synchronicities in my life abound. You know when something happens that you’d just been wondering about like when you think of someone and they call you, or when you’re working on a problem, are befuddled, and then like magic the answer strolls into the room as your coworker announces something they heard about at a meeting that will answer your conundrum?

I had to laugh. During the chatting time before the meeting, I was speaking to a friend about what was going on in my life. Not least of which was all of the impending college decisions for my son who is a senior. As if right on cue, Janet told us a story about her friend’s kid who was having a hard time choosing the right college.

My friend and I looked at each other and cracked up. I found myself blurting out, “Synchronicities! That’s why I’m here to hear you speak! I’m sure your message is something I need to hear.” Much to her astonishment. Thank goodness it was a small gathering : ) I was right, she taught me important lessons.

From being an artist, author, car salesperson, art manager, video assistant director, cartoonist, editor—she’s worn many hats. However being imaginative, analytical, willing to do the work and learn what she doesn’t know and able to think on her feet is a definite theme in her life.

“Everything you do in life,” she said, “comes back to you later and will be of some use.”

I’ve seen this strongly played out in my own life. I was reminded about how each of our paths is a journey. Jean Houston, one of my mentors says that nothing you learn is ever wasted. I certainly can attest to that. And synchronicities, well I seem to have a Ph.D in those : )

Many of you know that I had a mom’s website,, in 2009-2012 and that I used to do what I call momi-nars (webinars for moms). I eventually shut it down because I couldn’t get any traction. Marketing was a cave I neglected to enter—was it the wrong choice? In my way of thinking today, I’d say no, it was the wrong time.

Later I moved on to taking my first class with Jean Houston in 2014 on “Finding Your Life’s Purpose”. In July 2014, we went to Israel on a family vacation where we toured incredible places and found ourselves cowering in bomb shelters. The missiles blasted me from complacency and made me want to work on Peace.

I truly believe other than having my son (who besides being brilliant, has an even bigger heart and wants to go into politics of all things—stay tuned, I have every confidence he will make the world a better place). This is why I was born on Earth at this time…to educate about what I had learned, teaching about how to find Peace within and bring it outside into the world.

So I decided to write a book about our adventure and more. It’s a tale of touring, terror and transformation. After over three years, lots of learning and blood, sweat and tears I’m excited to announce it will be out this year. As soon as I have a launch date, I’ll let you know and we can celebrate together!

Anyway, as I wrote my book I learned you have to have an audience. How do you get an audience? Have a website. Sound familiar? was born.

Next… Along my journey I fell in love with writers and wanted to surround myself with them and learn together so I founded Writers4Writers, our writer’s support group which we’ve had for over two years now. We have monthly speakers from every aspect of writing….business, craft, sharing authors journeys, doing readings, everything’s covered and we learn together in a supportive atmosphere. Once again, we share authors’ journeys…hello!

On May 14, 2018, from 6:30pm-8:00pm, I will be holding my first live webinar for Writers4Writers—we’re moving online. Notice the synchronicity? Here I am again doing webinars…like I said, maybe it wasn’t the right time before : )

I will be hosting Teri Rider, the owner of Top Reads Publishing. She will be presenting the “Industry Standards Checklist for a Professionally Published Book” released by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) in March 2017.

The checklist is a must-have for writers, and will be an informative session. If you have an idea that you want to self-publish, or you’d like to enhance your knowledge of how to produce a professional, self-published book, we’d love for you to join us. We’ll have Q&A after her hour talk.

All of our meetings will be recorded for those people who have a scheduling conflict and there’ll also be the opportunity to join Writers4Writers as a member to receive discounts and have access to a library of recordings sure to be useful to any aspiring writer. I’m very excited!

Janet regaled us with her tales of transitions…one moment married, 22 years old and helping run a successful company of 22 employees and 3 locations with her then husband, to finding herself divorced.

Her experiences working for Creem magazine, at the time the #2 Rock and Roll magazine second only to the Rolling Stone, were one for the record books. She acquired lots of experience in the art department. Realizing the rampant drug culture did not suit her future, she laid the plans for her next move up the corporate ladder.

She went to her boss and said she wanted a promotion because she wasn’t the art assistant there, in fact she acted as a manager, and deserved a promotion and pay raise. She didn’t get the raise right away, but she did get the title and she soon left the company to work for another publishing house proudly displaying her newly acquired management title after her name. This definitely is a story that could have been celebrated in my last blog about International Women’s Day.

At one point she was even married to her first love—an avocado farmer.

Her analytical skills always seemed to help her strategically move her life forward. Given the extreme lows and highs, it seemed like she was part cat leaping from one challenge to the next, always landing on her feet. In between job changes, she even managed to take off and enjoyed traveling the world for about a year and half, finally landing in San Diego where she’s been since 1984.

As is often the case, Janet’s storyline exemplifies the fact that it is rare for a person’s life to travel in a straight path. There’s always lots of twists and turns. Once interesting side bar in her past was that she ended up as the Assistant Director for a video with Ed Asner that became a cult favorite called “Less Stress in 5 Easy Steps.”

One editorial skill she honed amidst drawing as a cartoonist was how to be succinct. Since that’s an area I struggle with, it made me feel like maybe I should take up drawing but only for a second, realizing I’d have to first get beyond remedial stick figures. Sorry, it didn’t work this time but as my content editor goes through my book I’m sure she’ll be taking a Ginsu knife to it and the result will be a much tighter, better story : )

Artistic proficiency didn’t necessarily provide her the happy ending to her publishing story for her comic strips, however she was able to publish other books varied in their topics from her popular, award-winning, You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get: Proven Techniques to Get More Out of Life and also, Superior: Adventure Romance, published under her pen name, Zoe Amos. From Business/life lesson books to lesbian romances, her interests vary.

What it did train her for was to get used to hearing “No!” which she acknowledges is what you often hear in the publishing business. I think that’s one of the many reasons self-publishing has become so popular. It’s much easier on those with a less than stiff upper lip and with the desire to control what happens with your work. A major downside however, is coming up with the cash to accomplish your goal.

She acknowledged there could be problems with your work, or often the reason they rain on your parade may simply be it’s not what they need at this time—it’s not necessarily you. Sage advice for life in general. Life is transacted by each individual’s personal story and most often has nothing to do with us. Keep that in mind and it will save you lots of grief!

In the mid 1990s she woke up with a story idea in her head and set about writing her first novel. As extreme luck would have it, she was blessed with a mother who was a bona fide professional editor. Dressed in editor’s clothing, her mom was able to help her spit shine her work. Couldn’t we all use such accessible help in the next room and in our genes?

Beyond relying on her mother, she put out the effort to study grammar, and took classes to learn both the craft of writing and about the business of publishing where she discovered query letters, agents and the Land of No!

She struggled with “embracing rejection letters” as is the oft-touted advice of fellow writers. Unless you need the piles of them to form a warm blanket because you can’t afford a wool one—they suck! Traditional publishing is a roller coaster ride that requires a significant investment in Pepto Bismol.

After making several disparate and at times desperate career moves, Janet took steps to shore up her skills and learn what she needed to know for her next change of position while paying the bills with jobs that she could do, but not necessarily love.

Janet advised that if you look at your career path and see skills you need to acquire, put out the effort to learn them—she follows her own advice. I agree with this philosophy so strongly, it’s taken me over three years to produce my book. Quality isn’t acquired easily, but I believe it’s always worth the hard work.

When she needed to improve her speaking skills she turned to Sheryl Roush, an acclaimed speaking coach. One important marketing lesson she learned from her was that all of your materials have to match. Make sure your book, postcard, bookmark, and business card look like they belong in the same professional family; what we’re looking for here is cohesion, not crazy Aunt Sally dressing in see-through plastic when you’ve chosen stripes as your theme.

While deciding on her book cover she researched—How is my book different than other books? What is the appeal? She insisted you are responsible to find out those answers, not others. It’s time for some soul searching. She was speaking my language.

One appealing personality trait is Janet’s deep understanding of the psychology of sales. She realized there are seven motivations that she covers in her book that drive behavior and these were the reasons why we either got what we wanted or didn’t.

Both negotiation and subterfuge played in this game. Were the participants willing to acknowledge to each other or even themselves what they truly wanted? Janet said, “If you can find out what the real motivation is, and can meet the buyer with what they want, you can get a sale or a result both parties can live with.”

It was clear to me that Janet was a consummate salesperson. Why is that important for an author? Because we want our readers to enjoy our books and recommend them to their friends. Sure, we have important heart felt messages we need to get across but we need to understand how to speak to the reader so they want to listen, even look forward to the tale through use of true stories because they are relatable.

Another point she stressed throughout her talk is to let some respected parties read your manuscript for feedback before you press print. If several are all saying the same thing…listen. It may save you lots of grief and a garage filled with unsold books.

If you are self-publishing, hire experts whether for editorial, laying out of the book cover, interior and exterior design. It may seem like it might cost you more upfront but will save you time and cash to avoid costly mistakes. An additional benefit is learning the tricks of the trade that only those with experience can provide.

One valuable lesson she told us was when she decided to get a larger print run to be more economical. She was advised by the expert to have sets of five or ten books wrapped in plastic. In this way they were easier to count and were protected in storage and in shipping of bulk orders.

Pay attention to timelines for awards, conventions, etc. One hard lesson she learned was that you don’t want to miss out like she did on an opportunity by launching your book too late to meet the deadline for an important competition—IBPA’s coveted Ben Franklin Award.

She told us one inspiring story that would surely put a smile on any of our faces if we were the author…

She said, “One of the best things that ever happened to me was when I was selling jewelry at a craft fair. A woman approached me and said, “I have your book and I just read it. I want you to know my husband passed away recently. I was depressed—before he died, I hadn’t thought about life without him. Your book was so empowering it lifted me out of my depression.”

So you see, there is a reason we write, we have messages and stories to tell. Sometimes powerful that can help people, and other times merely to entertain—still a pleasant service. No matter. All writers hope that someone will want to read their work, and just maybe even learn something from the endeavor. One of life’s symbiotic relationships with a loving nature.

As always, I invite you to Join Me On My Journey…

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