Janet Snoyer, author of The Family Guide to Medical School Admissions, shares her process for writing a nonfiction how-to book, and the several phases of book writing that took her to the finish line, including bringing on a co-author for structure and editing. Co-author Elyse Perruchon joins the discussion.
Inspired to Level the Playing Field
Simon: I learned so much from reading your book, The Family Guide to Medical School Admissions. What motivated you to write this book?
Janet: Parents are a vital resource to all premeds, spiritually, emotionally, physically and financially. I felt that they were shut out of the knowledge they needed for the process and, as a parent myself, I wanted their part to be recognized. I saw that in their unconditional love for their children, and their lack of reliable information, they sometimes gave messages to their premeds that made the hard work of applying even harder.
As I continued to develop my system of advising I began to recognize that parents are closed out of the process by undergraduate institutions, and I wanted to rectify that. In addition, there is a real chasm between applicants who are well advised and those who get little to no advising. I felt driven to temper, and to correct the mythology found on the internet that parents cannot always see through.
I wanted to level the playing field—to share my observations with all parents so they could do the best job possible of guiding their premeds and even acting as the premed advisor if they could not otherwise find one. If parents are the most likely people in a premed’s life to want to act as their advisors, I decided to give all parents the information they need.
Informed parental support is vital to becoming a happy and successful medical student and physician.
How to Help Readers Feel Motivated and Inspired
Janet: The parents of my premeds motivate and inspire me on a daily basis. They would read stuff on the internet and call me to check out its veracity and how it applied to their premed. Parents of premeds are stereotyped and stigmatized, put down for pushing their children into medicine and marginalized. They do not get the respect they deserve for raising great kids who have made an independent decision to become physicians, for raising young idealists who want to spend their life in service to people, as healers. I am inspired to make them feel included and give them the knowledge they need to continue to be great resources for their great kids.
Elyse (co-author): Inspiration and motivation arise from sustaining a positive mindset. Janet is deeply passionate about this work and everyone she interacts with can’t help but feel inspired by her commitment to guiding young healers to achieve their dreams. Her ability to clearly – and humorously – articulate the challenges and joys that parents and applicants face makes for a very relatable guidebook, and she approaches the inevitable obstacles and setbacks with confidence, positivity and wit.
Finding a Co-Author
Simon: How did your writing process, and working with a co-author, unfold?
Janet: When I began work with Lisa Tener [in Bring Your Book to Life®], she suggested I research the market to find what else had been written to my target audience: parents of people applying to medical school.
On Amazon I found many books dating back to the 70s guiding applicants through the medical school application process. Some of them had cover callouts to parents. I bought them all, went for a snowy February week to a rural retreat center near my town, and read them all. They contained zero guidance on how to parent a premed, and contained many misconceptions and often quite biased advice which I knew to be untrue. I knew then that people needed the book I would write, and that it would be worthwhile.
For years, I found I could only work on it during winters when my advising load ebbed. Elyse Perruchon, who is a gifted editor, had been supporting [my advising] work, editing applicant essays and helping me with presentations, among other tasks, for a few years, learning the work and growing into mastery of its many parts. She decided to draw up a detailed outline of chapters which I had named, but that had not been written. [Each] year, I plugged away at it and she edited my drafts.
A Co-Authoring Retreat
As the pandemic surged, and medical school admissions became even more difficult than ever, I felt I needed to finish it or forget it, so we agreed to meet up at a lodge in Rochester, halfway between our homes in Ithaca and Buffalo, NY, and spent a week there with my daughter, who directed operations to ensure we would have a final draft at the end of the week.
Elyse edited chapters, I wrote, and we developed a rhythm where we would spend mornings together going over our outlined, unwritten chapters. Elyse would ask me trenchant questions to fill in the outline and we recorded my responses. We then went to our separate writing rooms and Elyse drafted those chapters, which I then redrafted the following day and she subsequently edited. Her work was incredibly valuable to me. I saw that her integrity and her insights made it a better book. One morning at breakfast, I told her so and asked her to be my co-author, because I felt she was that already, and deserved greater credit for her part.
I want to emphasize that writer retreats powered this book from its inception through to the finish line, as did having Elyse as a muse and my daughter a coach, supporting my message and encouraging its transmission.
Simon: One thing I learned early on that surprised me is that there is a lot more that goes into medical school admissions beyond the main metrics like GPA and test scores. How did you convince readers to have a more balanced perspective of what goes into medical school admissions?
Janet: Each family going through the medical school admissions cycle is a novice. They seek experts who have seen many application cycles to guide their perspectives. Some of my families have as many as three premeds, but even so, each cycle presents different challenges, as the holistic review process changes. What medical schools are looking for changes over time. The pandemic and social unrest of the early 2020s changed the review process dramatically, for example. My expertise, and the relatable stories I share convince families and applicants to develop appealing narratives, and to trust that their own stories will make them stand out from their numbers.
Understanding your Readers and Market Research
Simon: How did your work with families help you understand your readers and write your book? And did you need to do additional research about your market to write effectively? If so, how did you research your market and their needs?
Janet: Parenting has always been important to me. Early in my career, I was a Montessori elementary school teacher and parents were key to helping children develop their passions. When I later worked as a university pre-health advisor, I saw that parents were closed out of the advising process, which made for a stilted approach to working with premeds.
When I became an independent advisor, one of the first things I did was to invite parents and other family members into the advising process. I was able to observe that all parents wanted to support their children emotionally and spiritually, but some did it much more effectively than others. I began to think about offering seminars where parents of my applicants could talk things over and improve their support strategies. As time went on, I wanted all parents to have this information, so the book seemed a better approach in the end for this market.
The Favorite Chapter
Simon: What is your favorite chapter of the Family Guide to Medical School Admission, and why?
Janet: My favorite is Chapter 2: Communication: How to be good company on the journey. It is the distillation of what I have learned from listening to my applicants when they share how their beloved, supportive, proud parents sometimes drive them crazy. I also loved writing about the importance of faith traditions in raising healers.
The Most Challenge Chapter
Simon: What was the most challenging chapter of The Family Guide to Medical School Admissions to write, and why? What advice would you give to an author who is stuck on one of the chapters in their book?
Janet: Part 3 was the most challenging. I did not want to replicate all the applicant help books out there, but I felt like the book needed some summary of what to expect in the application cycle. It was boring sometimes to write it all down and it could easily have been ten times longer. Elyse and I devised a nearly painless process of getting through this section: Elyse would ask interesting questions from the perspective of a parent who does not know anything about the application cycle and I would answer as if I was talking to the parent on the phone. Elyse transcribed our conversations and together we recrafted them into standalone chapters.
Simon: I appreciated the exercises you offered in The Family Guide to Medical School Admissions. I thought they were creative and helpful. An example is that you ask the reader to document a session with someone who asks them the question, “Why is a medical career the best choice for you?” How did you create or find the exercises that you incorporated into your book?
Janet: Thank you! I created most of the exercises through conversations with applicants over the years. When some conversation pattern of Q&A is helpful, I write it down and refine it to use with others. I have a strong conviction that mentorship is really valuable in parenting an adult. Medical school applicants need to learn to talk about their interests and aspirations. Thus I encourage families to conduct specific, even semi-scripted interview-type conversations to improve confidence and increase the applicant’s willingness to be authentic in their essays and interviews.
Addressing Readers’ Emotional State
Simon: I imagine that readers may have a lot of stress and anxiety about applying to medical school. What are some of the ways that you help your readers and client to relax and let go of some of these negative emotions?
Janet: We use simple methods that work very effectively. First we have a systematic way of asking the parent or applicant to state their concern, and to tell us why they believe it. Is it true? This is based on the enduring and simple work of Byron Katie.
We also provide our expertise as an antidote to all the information on the internet, which can really confuse and cause misinformed stress. We recommend and use brain entrainment sound tracks from the EOC institute which put them in a meditative state of mind and allows them to drop the distracting thoughts that perpetuate anxiety.
In addition, we use metta or loving kindness meditation as a way of soothing the fear, anger and grief that fuels stressful responses to this arduous period in a person’s life. Finally, we care about our applicants and take their concerns seriously. This helps them put things in perspective and alleviates their stress and anxiety. We also care about their patents, and have learned that listening is the best medicine for parental regrets.
Setting the Order of the Chapters
Simon: As co-authors, how did you determine the order of the chapters in The Family Guide to Medical School Admission? Is it okay for readers to read the chapters out of order?
Elyse: As I developed the outline for the book, it made sense to start with the highest level guidance that permeates all parts of the medical school preparation and application process. Next, we presented information in the chronological order that we use to guide our applicants through the cycle and provide them with relevant information at just the moment when it matters. There are a lot of moving parts and overlapping tasks in the cycle, which is why it can be so overwhelming for a family or applicant trying to navigate the process themselves. I do think the chapters can be read in any order, but they should all be read at some point because there is a lot of cross referencing and background information to be gleaned that would provide context for our comments about different parts of the application cycle.
Writing Lessons Learned
Simon: What is the most important lesson you learned from writing The Family Guide to Medical School Admission that you would apply to any future books or writing activities?
Janet: I learned that the book form is a deeply fulfilling way to establish the context and the background for one’s wisdom. I learned that I could put all my guidance and the experiences and education that informed it into one coherent and useful narrative.
Simon: What are some of the challenges you experienced when publishing The Family Guide to Medical School Admission?
Janet: One challenge was that we would spend time writing and then the admissions cycle would rev up again and we wouldn’t have time to complete the draft, repeated for 8 years. Another challenge was my concern over how my colleagues would respond to my chapter on why colleges and universities are sometimes not able to provide adequate advising to medical school applicants. I worried they would be hurt, or angry or defensive. I resolved this by asking some of them to read the chapter and make comments and provide feedback on the chapter about their work environments, all of which I incorporated.
Simon: What do you wish you knew ahead of time about publishing that you know now?
Janet: I wish I knew how publishing has changed and some of the packages that different publishing houses offer to first time authors. I wish I knew how simple and speedy it is to self-publish.
Simon: Can you tell me a little bit about your marketing strategy and some of the successes you’ve experienced in marketing your book?
Janet: We launched our book with a virtual book party on Zoom, where we indiscriminately invited everyone on our contact lists. It was a heartening and enjoyable event. We are planning to provide books to the parents of our applicants. A lot of our clients come to us via word of mouth so feel confident that many parents will find the book in the same manner. We are also contemplating a book tour that would take place on college campuses. We would like to see the book in public libraries, school libraries, and undergraduate libraries so any student who would like to become a physician can get this information about how to prepare early in their academic career.
About Janet Snoyer
Janet’s advising career in Ithaca, NY has involved work as a learning strategies counselor, admissions officer at a university, teacher of college success courses, college success counselor, writer of committee letters for students applying to medical school, and chief advisor at an Ivy League university that sends over 250 applicants to medical school each year. She has advised students on every aspect of the medical and dental admissions cycle.
Janet has a natural ability to identify individuals’ distinguishing characteristics and strengths and then help her clients build confidence in themselves. She believes that anyone can achieve their dream of becoming a doctor if they are honest about themselves and take the time that they need to build their case for medical school.
Janet continually builds relationships with medical schools and stays updated on admissions criteria and recruiting strategies by attending conferences and visiting schools. Through these connections, Janet is able to provide useful information to her clients and act as an advocate for them through the admissions cycle.