Today’s interview explores writing a parents’ guide. Parenting during COVID has offered special challenges. Now, most kids are back to school, but challenges still abound. My colleague and friend, Howard Van Es, along with Julie Lyons, has co-authored an informative, comprehensive and wise parents’ guide to navigating the return to school. In our interview we discuss the planning and preparation involved, the choices these authors made, how they wrote such a good and useful parents’ guide so darn fast, book marketing advice and more.
The Inspiration to Write a Parents’ Guide
Lisa: Back to School After COVID is so timely. What inspired you both to write this parents’ guide and to collaborate together?
Howard: Back in June of 2021 I kept seeing articles and hearing news reports about how difficult it would be for kids to go back to school in the fall. I wanted to do something to help families, and that is when I got the idea for the book. Julie Lyons and I have worked together on a variety of writing projects before, and with a long professional history in the education field, it was natural to reach out to her.
Developing the Book’s Structure and Content
Lisa: You cover a variety of important topics—from transitioning from vacation to addressing the social challenges brought on by the pandemic, to dealing with one’s own stress. How did you come up with the chapters, the structure and contents to write and publish this parents’ guide?
Howard: There was a lot of brainstorming between me and Julie. As public-school administrator, she was (and is) on the frontlines of what is happening in schools. As a former therapist, I had experience helping individuals and families in crisis, so I was able to bring helpful information around stress, self-care, habits, and family support.
Lisa: Wow, I didn’t know you were a therapist! I knew you have been an advertising executive, yoga instructor, author, publisher, marketing expert…you are truly a Renaissance man!
Balancing a sense of urgency when writing a timely parents’ guide
Lisa: When a book is urgently needed like this, I’m sure it creates pressure to get it out quickly so that people have the tools right now, as needed. Did you feel that kind of pressure and did you set tight deadlines for yourselves? If so, how did that go? Did you have to adjust expectations?
Howard: Great question! In reality, we did an amazing job—from the time it was conceived to the time it was actually published was 4 ½ months. We did set deadlines, but as you know, books can take on a life of their own. However, we both have a lot of writing experience, know how to get focused, and we work well with each other.
Just as important, we both knew the steps involved in publishing a book, so while we were writing, we were also working on the cover design and other aspects in parallel. And fortunately, my company Let’s Write Books, Inc., helps indie authors self-publish their books, so we had the resources and processes all in place.
Lisa: Any advice on how to balance the sense of urgency with all the other tasks, such as research and editing?
Howard: Yes, it really helps to have a planning calendar, make others who are involved in the book development aware of your timelines, and ask them for their assistance. For example, we let the interior designer know when we would have the proofread text. We were able to finish the interior design of the book within two weeks—an incredible accomplishment! We also got the cover designer involved early on, as soon as we had a rough book description.
Book Planning, Audience and Research
Lisa: How much planning did you do before writing this parents’ guide? And what’s your planning process before writing a book?
Howard: It was pretty clear from the inception that this book was for families of elementary school kids. We also see a secondary audience of teachers. So, we really didn’t need to do a lot of audience research from the start. And since Julie was dealing with these issues brought on by COVID, she had a really good idea of the challenges families were facing with their kids going back to school.
Lisa: That makes sense. Many parenting books focus on parents of children in a specific age range. This book focuses on both PK-grade 2 and grades 3-6. How did you decide on that specific age range and not broader or less broad?
Howard: We felt that the needs and developmental stages of kids in elementary school were different than that of older kids and wanted to provide the best tools and strategies to families without making the book too long or overbearing.
Lisa: Howard, among your many talents, you are an expert in Amazon marketing and publishing a book successfully on Amazon. I’m sure you used that knowledge to learn more about what readers were looking for and wanted. How did you use resources like Amazon and Publisher Rocket to provide input into decisions about content, structure, audience, etc. from the very beginning of the project?
Howard: I used Publisher Rocket to select keywords and categories for Amazon. We also looked at what was already written on the subject and didn’t find too much competition. As for the structure, we wanted the book to be informational yet engaging, and that is why you find stories about people’s challenges and how they have overcome them, as well as review lists at the end of each chapter.
Incorporating Stories in a Parents’ Guide
Lisa: Your stories bring the material to life. How did you go about incorporating these stories? Are they examples of people you worked with, Julie? Or composites of several people? Or did you solicit stories/examples?
Julie Lyons: The stories were composites of people I’ve interacted with (both personally and professionally); my goal was to capture the general sentiment surrounding the issues covered in the book, since there are universal themes all parents seem to share right now: fear for their children and families, political pressure and polarization, and a desperate need to balance self-care with caring for one’s children.
Lisa: I also enjoyed how the stories open each chapter by illustrating the problem and then, just before the chapter summary, closes how things are now. Was it challenging or easy to break up the stories into two parts?
Julie Lyons: We felt that it was important to show the reader how to apply the principles in each chapter to specific situations. By describing how the parent in the story at the beginning of the chapter could incorporate the strategies into his/her life, we felt the suggestions would be more relatable and practical. Breaking the story into a problem/solution format made sense, so it was relatively easy to break up the stories into those two parts.
Lisa: Your chapter reviews, or summaries, are concise and make it easy to return to the book as a resource when particular issues arise. What advice do you have for when to include chapter summaries or reviews and how to make them useful without being redundant or boring?
Howard: Thanks for noticing this. The chapter reviews or summaries provide quick reference for the material in a particular section. Further, they help to reinforce key points. They also break up the text, so the book looks more attractive to read.
Supporting Civility and Compassion in a Polarized Arena
Lisa: I love that your advice addresses the question of what if these tips don’t work in certain situations and how to get support and consult with experts.
You mention from the get-go that the book will help parents “discover how to deal with difficult parents in a polarized political landscape.” This seems to me such an important chapter and you do a great job of keeping the politics out of the advice—showing compassion for parents no matter where they fall on the political spectrum—particularly when it comes to polarizing issues. I found this chapter to be especially thought provoking and wise, without taking sides. How did you go about addressing situations that are volatile and keeping a more neutral tone and attitude?
Julie Lyons: In a public-school setting, it is not our place to advance or encourage any particular political viewpoint; rather, our goal is to educate. From that perspective, educators are accustomed to dealing with opinions that may differ from our own.
I will admit that in the current political atmosphere, it can be challenging to remain neutral. However, I have found that remaining empathetic is key, especially when interacting with people whose opinions may run counter to my own convictions. Understanding that we all have the same goal—doing what is best for our children—keeps me centered when it comes to addressing someone I may not agree with.
By really listening to understand where someone is coming from, it is much easier to respond in a nonjudgmental way, without sacrificing my own values in the process. I believe it is only when we can engage in a nonconfrontational way that we will make any progress, so it’s critical that we approach these conversations from a place of curiosity and knowledge-seeking—rather than blaming and finger-pointing.
A Powerful Book Marketing Plan
Lisa: Right before chapter one, you offer a bonus—a free report on how to effectively stop arguments with your child. What a great idea, especially since you are planning multiple guides for parents—here’s a way to grow your mailing list, stay in touch with your readers for feedback and let them know when the next book in the series comes out. Do you have any additional marketing tips for our readers?
Howard: Right after we conceived the idea for the book, the very first thing we did was spend some sessions brainstorming marketing ideas and created a rough marketing plan. Too many authors work so hard to publish their book without having a marketing plan. Guess what happens once the book is launched? Very little. They sell a few copies to friends and relatives, and then the book dies. It is a shame. We both realized that we didn’t want to publish the book without lots of ideas for marketing.
So, the big take away here is to start thinking about book marketing as early as possible and create something of a plan. If you don’t know anything about book marketing, reach out to other writers, read books on the subject, take trainings, or consider hiring a consultant to help you.
Lisa: How are you marketing this parents’ guide? What advice do you have for our readers for successful book marketing?
Howard: This is a big subject, and we could write a book just on marketing. But I will share a few good ideas here:
- Announcements to our email lists
- Posting to social media
- Pitching the book to top 100 mommy bloggers
- Press releases to relevant media for parents and teachers
- Asking our colleagues to promote the book to their lists and social media accounts
- Upcoming webinars
- Amazon Pay Per Click ad campaigns
About the Authors
Howard VanEs is wellness writer with over thirty books written to date, many of which have been bestsellers in their respective categories on Amazon. Howard is also President of Let’s Write Books, Inc., a company specializing in working with independent authors providing publishing and book marketing services.
Contact Howard via his website at www.LetsWriteBooks.net
Julie Lyons is a school administrator and educator with more than two decades of experience. She has worked in the public schools as an elementary and middle school teacher, instructional math and literacy coach, and she currently serves as Director of Curriculum for her district. Julie has a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration and a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. She is also a state-certified teacher, principal, supervisor, and school administrator.
Contact Julie at Jlyonswriter@gmail.com
Readers of this interview may enjoy this article on how to write a health guide, or this guest post by Howard Van Es on the best time to start promoting a book.