I first met Dr. Kathleen Trainor at Harvard Medical School’s CME Publishing Course and had the pleasure of supporting her process to write her book proposal and sample chapters for Calming Your Anxious Child: Words to Say and Things to Do, and in choosing her literary agent, Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency, who sold the book to Johns Hopkins University Press. Here, Dr. Trainor shares her experience of both writing the book and getting published.
I would also like to add that Dr. Trainor came into my family’s life at an opportune time. The system she teaches in Calming Your Anxious Child helped us in several areas, including helping my younger son overcome swimming fears. By the end of the summer, he was jumping in with glee and swimming the length of the local pool!
Lisa: What inspired and prompted you to write Calming Your Anxious Child? What were your objectives, inspiration and vision?
Kathleen: The desire to spread the word about the epidemic of anxiety among children, and the need to effectively treat it to prevent later problems in life. My hope was that parents and professionals could read this book and gain insight into the e performer pf anxious children.
I also hoped that parents could identify with some of the stories and not feel so isolated in their challenges parenting an anxious child. And most importantly I wanted to introduce an effective Cognitive Behavioral Approach that gives hope for reducing child anxiety.
Lisa: When we met at Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course, you were in that initial phase of thinking about and clarifying the book concept. What were your biggest challenges at the time? How did you resolve them?
Kathleen: When we met, my biggest challenge was understanding how to take an idea and turn it into a book. I needed to understand the book publishing process and also how to structure my ideas into a readable format for parents. Writing drafts of stories from patients and getting feedback from other writers [in your book writing program] really helped with this process.
Lisa: Can you share a bit about who Calming Your Anxious Child is written for, what types of problems this audience faces?
Kathleen: My book is for parents but also can benefit anyone who works with kids. If you work with kids in any capacity you will be working with some anxious kids and their parents because this problem is so widespread.
My hope is this book will give people more understanding and empathy for both the anxious child and his/her parents along with specific strategies that can help.
I always wanted the book to be for parents and professionals so they could learn more about how effective cognitive behavioral therapy is for anxious children and because I think strengthening parents to be able to help their child is so important.
Lisa: Many parenting books focus on a specific age—babies or toddlers or grade schoolers, adolescents or teens. What made you decide to offer a broad spectrum of ages?
Kathleen: I wanted to include different anxiety disorders and different ages because many families have more than one anxious child and their symptoms might be very different. Also anxious children may show one type of anxiety at a certain age and them later show different anxiety symptoms.
At different ages the same type of anxiety can also look different. Anxiety disorders can be very variable and often kids don’t fit into one category.
Lisa: One thing that really stands out about Calming Your Anxious Child is that you include the voices of the parents in each story. I think that was such a great instinct. Can you talk about why you did that and any feedback about that which you’ve gotten on that from parents?
Kathleen: I really wanted to have the voices of the parents represented because I think a lot of parents of anxious children feel isolated, overwhelmed and blamed by others for their child’ difficulties.
I wanted this book to show the parents as loving and well meaning and trying their best to parent their child. My message is that parenting an anxious child can be counterintuitive and giving parents guidance is crucial to helping them help their child.
Lisa: The stories really make the book come to life. How did you do that?
Kathleen: The voices of the parents in my book represent years of listening to parents and remembering their stories helped me to make it come to life.
Lisa: So, it sounds like one skill you really made use of in your writing was listening.
Lisa: I remember the evening you and I met with Regina Brooks who became your agent—I believe it was a year after you and I met at the conference. Regina was very excited about the book, but she did want you to work on your platform as an author before she sent the book to acquisitions agents at publishing houses. What were some of the things you did to expand your reach and build a following?
Kathleen: Building my platform is not something that came naturally for me, especially because I have a busy practice. I did build LinkedIn followers and I launched a website and blog. I also began blogging on the Huffington Post on children’s anxiety and related topics.
Lisa: I think many therapists find it hard both to find the time for writing and to be the spotlight. You seem to have found ways that work for you—where you can share your expertise in a way that fits naturally.
Just to clarify for our readers, while Johns Hopkins University Press is a University Press, they also publish trade books for a more general audience, including parents. What was the process like working with JHU Press?
Kathleen: Johns Hopkins was great to work with. The proposal and the book had to be peer reviewed so that does slow the process but gave me good feedback as well.
I had hired someone to copy edit the book and also hired a publicist to help Johns Hopkins with publicizing the book.
Lisa: The book just came out and you’ve already received some great publicity—The Washington Post and a great review in Library Journal. I look forward to seeing it continue and help spead the word!
What advice do you have for aspiring authors of a self-help book?
Kathleen: My advice to others writing self help books is to try to simplify it as much as possible yet base the book on solid research. In a way, think about it as translating research into user friendly language that people can understand and apply. Some books involve too many complicated concepts or too much homework for readers to do. And other books I read were not based on solid research.
I have to say publishing this book is such a huge accomplishment that makes me feel proud that I will be able to help so many kids and families. This started as a dream, and it has evolved into a real book!
Lisa: Yes, the book has just come out. Let’s add on to this interview in a few months when you start to get reader feedback. It will be exciting to include the feedback you get from parents and the opportunities that come your way as a published author!
Dr. Kathleen Trainor is a senior psychologist on the staff of the Child Psychiatry Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital and has been on the faculty of Harvard Medical School for more than 25 years. She has over 30 years experience working with children teens and families specializing Cognitive Behavioral Treatment and currently has a private practice in Natick MA.
Dr. Trainor presents to professionals and community groups on Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Anxiety Disorders, Trichotillomania, Skin Picking, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome, Autism and more. She also provides training and consultations to schools and therapists in various clinical settings. She is the author of Calming Your Anxious Child: Words to Say and Things to Do.