Inspiration for Writing a Parenting Book
Simon: I thoroughly enjoyed reading Raising Resilient Kids: 8 Principles for Bringing Up Healthy, Happy, Successful Children Who Can Overcome Obstacles and Thrive despite Adversity. What inspired you to write this parenting book?
Rhonda: At scientific conferences, after I presented my research—studying the childhood experiences of centenarians—moms inevitably asked me for a book. Their requests inspired me to help guide parents—with more of an in-depth dive—helping them put the centenarian principles into practice.
The Journey to Discovering 8 Resiliency Principles
Simon: This is a wonderful program to help people build resilience in their family. In Raising Resilient Kids, you develop eight resiliency principles. Describe a little bit about your journey towards discovering these eight principles.
Rhonda: As a public health professor, epidemiologist, and mother of three young kids, I decided years ago that I wanted better health for myself, my husband, and my whole family. My husband had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and I also had higher cholesterol.
Though we were vegetarians and very active outdoors, I knew I wanted to learn more and find a better way to promote health and resilience. The community where we live—Loma Linda, California—is somewhat a destination hotspot, because of the number of centenarians living here. My husband’s aunt at 108 years of age, is the oldest currently living in my community.
So, I decided to start interviewing the centenarians and see what advice they’d have for not only my family, but families in general. I conducted the interview process using qualitative research methods, in which I designed a survey instrument to guide the interview sessions.
All interviews were recorded and then transcribed word for word. Once transcribed, a team and I went through and analyzed the transcriptions looking for themes that emerged. A total of eight themes—or centenarian habits—emerged, that potentially protected them from all the hardships they endured and helped them to reach a vibrant 100 years in age.
Vulnerability and Personal Stories
Simon: You share engaging personal stories of raising your children in Raising Resilient Kids. Many of them are very funny. What are some lessons you learned that might help authors who are looking to share personal stories in their book?
Rhonda: Personal stories are an excellent way to engage readers and entertain them, while teaching or sharing your knowledge. Additionally, it helps people to relate to you, especially if you share similar struggles they might be facing.
But I warn you, it can be scary sharing stories about yourself—I’ve just learned to embrace that feeing and move forward despite my discomfort. I often remind myself that it’s for a greater good that I share my flaws, to give others courage to try out new experiences.
I think the stories were what the publishing house like best about me; it made me relatable. In addition to one’s own personal stories, interviews can help you integrate other people’s stories, though you may need to change names to protect identities.
Understanding the Target Audience
Rhonda: My readers are parents, grandparents, caregivers, anyone wanting to promote resiliency in themselves and for their whole family. Though I write the book for families with children, pretty much any adult (young or older) can read the book, learn the centenarian’s habits, and promote resiliency for themselves.
A potentially wonderful side benefit of practicing the centenarian habits is that they are linked to increased happiness and creativity.
Simon: That illustrates such an important point in writing a book that readers buy and read—you need to identify a clear audience in order to reach them with your language, your examples, your tone, your title, even. At the same time, other people will read your book, people outside that target market. On the flipside, when you don’t identify a focused audience, and try for too broad an audience, you can be less successful in reaching readers. You may reach hardly anyone.
Incorporating Innovative Exercises in a Parenting Book
Simon: In chapter 1 of Raising Resilient Kids, you offer an exercise in which you ask readers to check a box if they can relate to hectic family schedules and frequent on-the-go dining. What inspired you to offer this kind of exercise?
Rhonda: This was suggested by my wonderful book coach and mentor, Lisa Tener! Lisa taught me to create and use “sidebars”—and I have to say, those are one of my favorite parts of the book. Also, if a writer is working with a behavior change, it helps to have the reader identify how many of the difficulties or habits they experience and what they’d like to change.
Simon: At the end of each chapter in Raising Resilient Kids, you offer a ‘Homework Time’ exercise. In this exercise, you ask the reader to answer questions in a notebook. How did you decide on the order of the Homework Time exercises across chapters that would be best for the reader?
Rhonda: My editor at the publishing house was outstanding and this was one of her recommendations.
Writing a Parenting Book is Like…(Advice for the Busy Writer)
Simon: What is the most important lesson you learned from writing Raising Resilient Kids that you would apply to any future books or writing activities?
Rhonda: That’s an outstanding question! I learned that to go from an abstract idea to an actual published book is like running a marathon while writing two dissertations and that steady progress will reward you.
- As a mother of three, full time professor, and epidemiologist with a County Health Department in the middle of a massive pandemic, I highly recommend weaving life’s experiences into the drafts of your book, while you are living it.
- Also, get good at writing in the spare time, no matter what that time may look like (waiting in the carpool lane or while my graduate students were taking a pop quiz).
- Also, it only takes one “yes,” but I had to wade through a lot of noes, trying to convince people that centenarians have tremendous wisdom for how we should be living (keep in mind this was before the Covid-19 pandemic had arrived and many people thought I was a little crazy).
- Always be courteous (even when rejected), gracious, and thank everyone who helps you, no matter how big or small the help.
Lessons Learned from a Book Coach
Simon: I know you worked with Lisa Tener while developing your book concept and writing a book proposal. What are some of the lessons you learned in that process?
Rhonda: I would not be at this point in the publishing process and a debut author, without the guidance and mentoring of my book writing and publishing coach, Lisa Tener. Lisa more than prepared me!
- A book coach was a must have for me.
- A second must was the book Lisa recommended How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen with great advice and strategy.
- Also consider an accountability partner who can read and encourage you throughout this entire process. You may not use all their advice, but it’s great to just have someone in your corner.
Book Proposal Tips
Rhonda: Here’s some of what Lisa suggested that helped me in writing a successful book proposal:
- Start by writing a little bit of the book first: develop an outline of your book and two or three chapters—this will be included in your proposal.
- After that has been completed, then I recommend working on the proposal.
- Start by laying out the skeleton of the proposal document and then filling in the different parts.
- Some parts of the proposal will be easier than others to complete. Lisa said, “Start with what you enjoy first—this will give you momentum.”
- If it’s your first book and proposal, I recommend not worrying so much about grammar and style while you write. Put all your thoughts down and then you can go back and polish—like removing as many of the places you use “was” as possible, because only the scientific field enjoys (but not really) reading passive voice.
Recently, Lisa encouraged me to apply for book awards! Wish me luck.
Working with a Literary Agent on a Parenting Book
Simon: What was the process for finding your agent and what was it like working with an agent?
Rhonda: Lisa Tener put me in contact with my agent Linda Konner and she is wonderful! Linda has excellent connections with publishing houses and got my proposal reviewed at the discussion table where the acquiring decisions were made, resulting in several offers—positioning the book for a bidding war. Linda knows book contracts and negotiated a high five figure advance, as well as many aspects of the contract that made things more favorable for me.
Tips for Working with a Publisher
Simon: You published Raising Resilient Kids with Tyndale. What was your experience like in working with this publishing house?
Rhonda: I am so fortunate and honored that Tyndale chose to work with me. They are extremely kind, professional, and helpful. Everything they have produced for me has been top quality and in a timely manner. I would highly recommend them as a publishing house to pursue, especially for first time authors. I continually took their advice when making decisions and I am extremely happy with the outcome of the book, from the cover to the back and everything in between.
Simon: What tips do you have for authors who are hoping to have a great experience with a traditional publisher?
Rhonda: Using an agent is probably the best way to find a reputable publishing house. A good agent will know the ins and outs of the industry and which houses are better than others. Additionally, I did a lot of praying that an excellent publishing house would pick me.
Developing Resilience in the Family During the Pandemic
Simon: What advice would you give to your readers on how to develop resilience in their family during crises such as the pandemic?
Rhonda: My centenarian friends would encourage us to find ways to help one another within our families and beyond. Sometimes the answers to our own problems may appear while helping others with their challenges.
Also, the centenarians would encourage us to embrace a slower and steadier pace of life.
As the pandemic waxes and wanes over this next year, we are going to be bombarded with all kinds of advertisements encouraging us to do everything.
Resist the urge!
It’s better to save space on your agenda for rest and relaxation for you and your family. This can help offset your own stress and likelihood of illness, and can increase creativity and success in your life—something I know writers hold near and dear.
Simon: Raising Resilient Kids is about building family resilience, and it is being published during the pandemic. Did the pandemic have any impact on your efforts to write, publish, or market the book?
Rhonda: For me, the pandemic may actually be helpful for my book, given that I’ve written about balancing my career as an epidemiologist with caring for my family. Because of the pandemic, many people have a better understanding of what an epidemiologist does.
Additionally, many parents, now more than ever, are concerned with the health of their children, so my book is publishing at a time when people are looking to build health and resiliency. On the negative side, COVID-19 has caused delays with the publishing process— my book was supposed to publish this past May, but launched in August. With setbacks, all you can do is learn to adapt and go with the flow.
Simon: So, practice resiliency!
How to Get the Right Foreword Writer
Simon: Tell me a little bit about your reasoning for having the director of the CDC write the foreword in your book. What should authors consider when choosing the best individual to write their foreword?
Rhonda: Initially I set out to have someone famous write the foreword for my book. After reaching out to celebrities and any famous folk I could think of—from Franklin Graham to Kim Kardashian—and everything in between, I realized no one knew me and they didn’t have time for me.
I started thinking about who I knew closer to home and then I remembered about Dr. Celeste Philip, a director at the CDC. She and I are both graduates of Loma Linda University and I had previously nominated her for an alumni award she received—so we knew each other. When I reached out to her about writing the foreword, she said “yes.”
I recommend writers think big and dream big when trying to land a writer for their book’s foreword. But, remember not to overlook those you might know or who someone in your circle of friends might know.
Marketing Activities to Promote the Book
Simon: What marketing activities have you engaged in—or planned—to help promote Raising Resilient Kids and what have you learned from this process?
Rhonda: Thus far, I’ve done a lot of podcasts and a couple articles. My publishing house has a publicist assigned to me to help with promotion of the book. In June, I had an article in parents magazine title “I’m a mom and an epidemiologist: here’s how I suggest you travel with kids this summer.”
Also, my own university is helping to promote the book. Lastly, I am using my own personal website along with my Facebook page to increase awareness. I’m planning to add to my YouTube channel videos on resiliency and back to school planning for parents. I’m still learning all there is to learn about promoting my book and my work. It’s a journey and, while I’m still learning the entire process, I’m remembering to enjoy it.
10 More Tips for Writing a Book Proposal and Writing/Publishing a Book
- Notes to Myself. Keep a word document (titled: Notes to Myself) in which you frequently add ideas for your overall book and things to include in each chapter. When you finish your first complete draft, go back over the “Notes to Myself” document and see what items you would like to check or improve (i.e., use more humor throughout each chapter, have 3 centenarian stories per chapter).
- Maintain those References. Keep track of your references within your word document. If you delete them, it’s hard to go back and find them. If you need a document without any references, make a copy of a near final draft—that way you will have one document without references and one with a complete list. My book ended up with a reference section for each chapter in the backmatter.
- Waves of Feelings. Remember the feelings will be like waves in the oceans, with highs and lows. These feelings are completely normal. Some days you will love your work and other days you will hate it—but stay the course, because in the end it will all be worth it.
- Get a great picture. Have a photographer friend or hire someone to take a few excellent and high-resolution pictures. You will need a picture for your proposal, your website, and even the jacket cover for your book.
- Find examples. Look for examples of proposals (either complete proposal or even sections) that have been written and ideally led to a published book. The book How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen has some great content examples.
- Tracking the Drafts. Keep track of all the drafts of your manuscript or your proposal. You never know when you might need to return to a previous version.
- Good Company Rejections. Keep handy a list of all famous authors who were rejected (like Stephen King, JK Rowling, Beatrice Potter) and a bag of M & M’s. It helps to soften the blow of rejections to know that you are in the company of many famous authors who had their work initially rejected (often many times) before getting publishing offers.
- Get a Partner. For writing the manuscript, I recommend work with a friend or an accountability partner and send them one chapter a week of the book you are writing. They can also help you decide what to keep and what to cut from each chapter, because not everything you write will be included. If you can’t afford a professional, find a partner or writing group for feedback. Or try both a partner for frequent accountability and a coach for professional guidance and feedback.
- Tame Your Inner Critic. Don’t worry that what you put down on paper isn’t that great. The first goal is to get your thoughts down. You may find it easier to go back and rework things, rather than to disrupt the flow of your own thoughts by trying to write them perfectly.
- Help Others and Yourself. Along this journey of writing and publishing, remember to take time and help others along the way. Sometimes solutions to the problems you face are found while helping others. Remember to be kind to yourself, enjoy the journey and that persistence is key.
Dr. Rhonda Spencer-Hwang is an epidemiologist, associate professor, and mother of three young children. Dr. Spencer-Hwang has been conducting groundbreaking research over the past eight years studying the habits of centenarians and is the first to identify a community of resilient members—the world’s first Resiliency Capital—despite their tremendous burden of hardships (from the 1918 Spanish flu to the Great Depression). She is the author of Raising Resilient Kids. Through the lens of an epidemiologist and as a parent, she shares the wisdom of the centenarians, along with step-by-step guidance, strategically equipping families for thriving in the face of whatever life throws your way. Connect with Dr. Rhonda Spencer-Hwang on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.