In this interview, Dr. Janet Crain shares insights in adapting a self-help book for a college course text, how she dealt with discouragement and other book writing challenges, writing tips,
The Inspiration Behind the Book
Reilly: What was the main message which you wanted your readers to walk away with from your self-help book, If You Want an Eggroll, Get Out of the Pizzeria?
Janet: Life is all about change.
Whether or not you expect the changes, every situation is an opportunity to use your shopping skills to acquire what you need. I call this “Shopportunity Knocking.”
The knock is the event, person or situation that creates the need. Sometimes the knock is a curveball that took you off course. Life cycle changes create new needs. There are a variety of knocks such as graduation, marriage, moving, or when you are diagnosed with a life threatening illness, divorce, death or bankruptcy.
It isn’t important what triggers the “Shopportunity.” The key is that you can apply your skills to develop a plan of action and implement it, with the right attitude and self-confidence.
Reilly: If You Want an Eggroll is written in a very personal way for a self-help book. Was it ever hard for you to put your experiences into words and then get them on to paper? How were you able to do it?
Janet: It was very hard for me to express myself without rambling and lots of emotion. I kept reminding myself that every journey presents a fork in the road. You have the choice of which road you follow at the fork or V.
One can lead to Victory or becoming a Victim of the event. In order to stay on the right road I needed help. I took a seminar on writing at Harvard and hired my book coach (Lisa Tener) for guidance. On my own I couldn’t have completed my self-help book.
Reilly: You worked somewhat collaboratively with your book coach, Lisa Tener. Can you describe how she worked with you?
Janet: Lisa organized my ideas to make them cohesive and flow in a storyline manner. She asked me questions when ideas were unclear and kept me on a writing schedule. She provided deadlines and discipline.
Reilly: Are there particular lessons you got out of that experience of working with your book coach that helped you write your second self-help book A Tree is Your Key? If so, what were they?
Janet: I learned the importance of having everything match the main idea, that the concepts are expressed visually on the cover, in each chapter, and clearly in your elevator pitch.
Shopping as a Metaphor for Life
Reilly: Shopping lists helped you through many of life’s struggles. What would be one of your biggest tips for your readers in starting their first list?
Janet: In life, as in shopping, the trick is to find what you want and get it without a lot of trauma and drama. When a shopportunity knocks, it is your turn to take charge and create an ideal shopping list.
Allow yourself to think big without judgement and dream. The more specific you describe what you envision the greater the chance that you will bring it into existence and make it a reality.
Reilly: You developed a system for organizing your life, which you share in If You Want an Eggroll. Did that knowledge of organization help you in the writing process of your self-help books? If so can you provide examples?
Janet: My system is based on the premise that if you need a light bulb you go to the hardware store, and not the dry cleaners. If you want to get married and are dating a married man or a confirmed bachelor, you need to go to a different store that can satisfy your needs.
The ME-POWER formula allows you to shop for whatever you need in a less emotional way using the metaphor of shopping. Essentially, the fact remains that if you are shopping in the wrong store you will not get the items you need.
Reilly: There are many in-depth details about shopping that were perfectly worked into your shopping metaphor. Was there any research you had to do about shopping before writing this book or was it mostly self-found knowledge?
Janet: My friends and family say I have always been an excellent shopper. Some people say I can single handedly save the economy.
I didn’t need research about female shopping skills, I needed to research about how men shop and explaining the metaphor clearly. Then I found Lisa.
Reilly: During the process of writing and publishing your self-help book did you ever get discouraged or overwhelmed? Did you ever create a shopping list for these processes?
Janet: Absolutely yes! The Food Court of my symbolic mall is the place to rejuvenate spiritually and emotionally when you are running low.
At times, I needed self-nourishment and to take a break. There were times I needed to visit my food court so I could regroup, adjust my attitude and creativity to continue writing. I created daily “to do” shopping lists.
Reilly: In between the chapters you placed a couple of “My Shopping Notes” pages, what was the reasoning behind them and what do you hope your readers are using them for?
Janet: Shopping notes provide breathing room. I hope they get filled with inspirational quotes, a to-do list, or a place to doodle.
Reilly: How did you promote If You Want An Eggroll?
Janet: I applied to different venues to give talks such as book clubs, schools, conferences and more to spread the word about my book. Some were paid and others unpaid.
Reilly: What are some of the most exciting opportunities that came out of publishing your self-help books?
Janet: I got to know people at a deeper level than usual. People open up to me and I get to increase their self-knowledge, make them aware of their relationships and provide insights. I worked with people in first nations. The wisdom of their trees helped them develop personal strategies to move forward in their lives. That experience is particularly powerful for me.
In terms of specific opportunities, I’m often invited to book clubs–Washington State, Oregon, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona. I’ve traveled to teach workshops in Paris; Manchester, England; Cyprus and everywhere I go, I read trees.
Now, I do tree reading and the shopping book combined in workshops.
Reilly: In promoting If You Want An Eggroll what aspects of the book did you highlight to help encourage sales?
Janet: The idea that “Shopportunity knocks” throughout your life, presents opportunities to use your shopping skills.
It’s important not to allow the knock to fill you with fear but rather motivate and inspire the power shopper in you.
The only store you can control is your own. Your beliefs control your actions and you control your beliefs. You can start today.
You have choices.
The universe will support you.
You are allowed to get your needs met.
Adapting a Self-help Book for a College Course
Reilly: I heard from Lisa Tener that a personal growth professor approached you to adapt your book for a college course this fall and that If You Want An Eggroll is now going to be used as a textbook for a class at the University of Hartford. Is this a path you ever saw for your book or is it a surprise?
Janet: It was a surprise. This professor took a tree reading class with me and bought If You Want an Eggroll from the bookstore when she went to buy the tree reading book.
She later contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in developing both books for online classes. I suggested we focus on my shopping book, If You Want an Eggroll. She offered to come down for a weekend and we’d work together. A weekend turned into four full days.
She wrote the outline for the curriculum and I filled it in. We worked for many hours each day for four days. She helped me figure out what experience we wanted students to have and which exercises would reinforce that. Developing the curriculum as a framework was the key to know what I had to do. Then we could place the exercises within the lessons.
I made a character and named her after my mom. I used her throughout the online course to summarize, make the points and give advice.
The professor decided the course might not be academic enough for colleges, so we changed the focus of the class from relationships with others to relationship with oneself in building self confidence, using shopping skills to teach the concepts. I’m in the midst of reworking the workbook for the online class so that it now fits this new framework.
Reilly: What were some of the challenges in adapting your self-help book If You Want An Eggroll for a college course?
Janet: One was certaining presenting the information, formulas and techniques in an academically acceptable format. So we had to change the focus of the class.
The other was in realizing that we needed to adapt the course for men. We actually didn’t realize that right away. What happened was the professor decided to use the Eggroll book just the way it is as a book in one of her classes. And I went to Goodwin College and taught a one day class for her students on using shopping skills for self-confidence and self-esteem. The students got extra credit for participating in this one day class and evaluating the idea for a more extensive class.
One important area of feedback was from the men in the class who said it reflected women’s shopping styles but not theirs. For the book, my readers were almost all women. For the class, I needed to weave in male shopping styles and motivation to make it inclusive. I talked to men and I’m going back in October for a follow up class to get more input from the male students about what I have so far. With men, shopping is about loyalty, advancement and financial intelligence. They’re adding more tools to their toolbox when they shop. They’re practical, not emotional the way women tend to be about shopping.
Reilly: So what are the takeaways for adapting your book to a college course?
Janet: First, start with your goals and curriculum, then fill in the details.
Second, make sure your ideas work for a college course; you may need to adjust the orientation to some extent, as I did.
Third, test out your ideas on your target population, and not just a segment of them, but a representative group. Teaching a one day workshop gave me the chance to try out these ideas before jumping in with a full course.
Reilly: It’s such a playful idea—increasing your self-confidence by using your shopping skills, and yet it seems so different from the typical academic orientation one might expect from a women’s studies course.
I imagine one reason the professor chose your self-help book is that it’s fun and creative and will get students thinking more creatively about their own personal growth.
Why do you think the professor of the course approached you and chose the book as a text?
Janet: She enjoyed my tree reading class and the insight she and her classmates gained from interpreting trees. It got her thinking about adapting both that book and the other book she bought for courses.
Confidence is critical in the job market especially when the economy is slow and the opportunities are limited. She saw the metaphors in the shopping book as an innovative and creative way at getting at a difficult subject–building self esteem. And she knew that this could give students a real edge in the job market.
Reilly: What tips would you have for our blog readers who aspire to write a self-help book?
- Get a book coach.
- Have a disciplined schedule to write.
- Do not get discouraged or overwhelmed.
- When you are in a creative mood, write yourself prompting questions that can motivate you when you are stuck.
- Don’t give up!
Reilly: What tips would you have for readers who want to adapt their book for a college course?
Janet: Ask yourself:
- What is this course about?
- What information do I want it to convey?
- Where would it fit in?
- Start with a curriculum; then fill it in.
- Test your ideas on your target populations.
Reilly: Anything else you want readers of this blog to know?
Janet: After my book came out, I was interviewed as a relationship expert on two relevant news stories that were breaking. The interviews aired on television and went well.
It was wonderful how strangers received my book and how it changed their lives.
Reilly: Can you share an example of something a reader told you about how it changed the person’s life?
Janet: “Dr. Crain’s insights helped me to understand why some of my friends never do what I think they should. I can’t change my relatives but now I understand them- and that makes it a lot easier! Her metaphor is great and I really loved her book.”
“I read [If You Want an Eggroll] over and over again. It’s easy to read and makes sense. It’s like speaking to someone. I’m mailing it to my mom and sister.”
“I’ve read a lot of books but never felt they applied to me. The analogy which Dr. Crain used in her book gave me a visual I could relate to and incredible insight in my life and relationships. As a result, I’ve been able to instantly and automatically apply her approach to better my life.”
Reilly: What powerful testimonials! Any other advice for our readers?
Janet: At the beginning I was afraid to ask people to write testimonials when they told me how much they liked my book. It’s important to get those testimonials and people’s photos when possible. I needed to follow my own shopping advice and ask for what I needed. Get their written permission to publish their comments and photos.
Reilly: Sometimes people write testimonials that sound too generic. Yours are powerful. What makes for a strong testimonial? What elements would you suggest should be in a testimonial? And do you ever ask a person to be more specific or add something to their testimonial?
Janet: I always ask readers to include the reason they liked the book and specifically how it influenced them. I have not always corrected grammar or misspellings in the past until one of my readers was made aware of the problem and told me how embarrassed she felt. So, now, I have the testimonial read and corrected for grammar and spelling before sharing it.
Dr. Janet Crain was raised in Brooklyn, New York. She is a retired dentist, author, hypnocoach, international lecturer, cancer survivor and expert Tree Reader. After seeing patients for over 20 years in private practice as a dentist limited to patients with disorders of the TMJ temporomandibular joint, she recently retired to pursue her passion for Tree Reading, which is a fun way to break the ice and start a fabulous conversation with someone new, or to communicate better with friends and family.