One of the first things that struck me about Ellen Moyer was her passion—her fire to make a difference in the world. While people these days generally recognize the importance of helping the environment, most only give lip service to it.
Ellen Moyer, however, has dedicated her life to making a difference, and it is evident in everything she does: from her education, to her field of work, to the book she chose to write: Our Earth, Our Species, Our Selves: How to Thrive While Creating a Sustainable World.
In this author interview, Ellen Moyer shares about her book-writing process, how she hopes Our Earth, Our Species, Our Selves will make a difference in the world, how she got key influencers to write a review of her book, what she learned while writing her book, and more. I am excited to introduce you to author Ellen Moyer.
The Genesis of Our Earth
Chris: Congratulations on your new book, Ellen. As I understand it, Our Earth is a labor of love. When did you decide to write the book and why?
Ellen: The book has been percolating practically my whole life, actually. As early as I can remember, I’ve wondered why humans are destroying the natural world and if we could possibly stop. Our Earth, Our Species, Our Selves: How to Thrive While Creating a Sustainable World answers these questions.
Chris: How did your own personal experiences with conservation inform the writing process? Is there any particular event or issue that made you say, “I have to get involved?”
Ellen: I’ve practiced environmental engineering for more than 30 years, helping to clean up contaminated soil and groundwater and, through “green design,” prevent new messes from being made. I chipped away at it, working at environmental consulting firms, thinking we were making progress – albeit slowly – toward a better, more benign way of life. I did a lot of writing and speaking as part of this work.
Everything changed for me when four large wood-burning power plants were proposed for western Massachusetts, where I live. These big honking plants would decimate forests, dry up rivers, pollute the air, and harm the climate even more than coal, among other disastrous impacts.
But regulators and even environmental non-profits were taken in by the developers’ false green-washing claims that “biomass” energy would be clean, green, and renewable. It took citizens seven years of fighting hard to kill these ridiculous projects – and that win was only partial and temporary.
I realized that citizens are being overwhelmed by too many bad proposals and projects, that our system has become corrupt and dysfunctional, and that a major overhaul is necessary. But it also became clear that ordinary people hold the ultimate power, and their writing and speaking can determine the course of events.
I was sitting at the kitchen table with my mother one day, bemoaning the biomass wars and saying we need another environmental movement.
She asked, “What would it take to have one?”
I said, “It would take another book like Silent Spring.”
She asked, “Why don’t you write it?”
I couldn’t come up with a good reason not to, so I got to work.
Preparation for Writing Our Earth
Chris: I know you were working on the book for four years. Can you tell us a bit about your research process?
Ellen: I ran into a lot of good information through my consulting work and just in the course of daily life, reading, listening to public radio and TV, and talking with people. I did a lot of internet searches. I paid close attention when people recommended articles and other sources to me.
After outlining the book, I made a file folder for each chapter, in which I collected information and notes over time. When it was time to write, I’d take all the notes for a chapter, organize them, make a detailed outline for the chapter, and write from the outline and notes. This worked well, and gaps were easily filled by searching the internet.
Chris: You cover a number of areas within “Our Earth.” How did you go about organizing it so it would have the most impact on readers? Did the book or the book concept change over time?
Ellen: I used Book Coach Lisa Tener’s method to organize my book. This involves writing each main topic or concept on an index card, and then laying out all the cards on a big table and moving things around until it all makes sense and hangs together in a logical sequence. This worked well.
The book has three parts, the first about the state of our world and how it got this way. The second part concerns individuals strengthening themselves and taking actions on their own to create a sustainable world, and the third deals with strengthening our society and taking collective actions.
I asked for comments from others in developing the outline and proposal. I took the advice from a well-known author who read my book proposal and strongly suggested I include personal stories to make the book come alive. I did, and this turned out to be great advice.
Part I contains a lot of bad news – we are in crisis and everything is on the line, and I was worried people would put the book down. But the bad news was absolutely necessary to include. Otherwise, the proposed solutions would not seem compelling.
Also, I had to convey that I’m aware how bad things are, otherwise readers would think that my hopeful outlook is due to ignorance. I almost put Part I in an appendix but decided it really needed to go first.
Luckily, people don’t put the book down. I think that is due to the stories, fast pace, interesting information, and promising that smoother sailing lies ahead. At first, I included some bad news in Parts II and III, but I moved it all to Part I so people could feel more hopeful and inspired in Parts II and III.
The book concept changed over time by becoming increasingly focused on suggesting specific actions. The book also became much shorter over time. I ended up cutting the book by more than half so it would move quickly and not get bogged down.
My excellent editor pushed me to do things that were hard, such as make huge cuts and include citations and an index. I’m glad I did.
The Our Earth Audience
Chris: Tell us a bit about your audience, and who you’re trying to engage with “Our Earth.” Did you write the book with that audience in mind? Is there anything you did in your writing to target and engage that audience, such as use a particular voice, vocabulary, structure, etc.?
Ellen: I kind of broke the rules here. The rules are to write for a specific target audience and focus on a specific topic. This is how our society works (or doesn’t work): everyone is supposed to specialize.
One message of my book is that we need a more generalist and integrative approach to life, looking at how everything is interconnected. The book is a big synthesis of a huge number of topics, and it’s written for people from all walks of life who care about the world we are leaving for future generations. This is a significant chunk of the population.
I did have one specific person in mind as I was writing, however – a fellow citizen in the biomass wars who became disillusioned. It helped to think of one actual person.
I’ve enjoyed doing a lot of technical writing in my day job. It requires you to be clear, detached, and unemotional. Our Earth was different in that I incorporated my own personal experiences and passion, while at the same time being scientifically solid. I tried to be conversational and down-to-earth, gearing my writing to readers with at least an elementary school level of education. Creating a sustainable world will require people young and old.
Chris: What effect do you hope to have on your readers, and what do you hope to accomplish with Our Earth? Is there a key takeaway that you would like to make sure everyone gets from this book?
Ellen: I want people to realize that we really can create a sustainable, just, and happier world for ourselves and fellow species, both now and in the future. We already have the tools and capacities we need. We can succeed, and the process will enrich us in many ways, starting right now. It’s not about sacrifice – it’s about upgrading to a better way of life.
We rarely hear this good news. I want to inspire people to have hope and take action. I have heard back from some people who have taken actions after reading this book. For example, someone organized a group to work on climate change, and another reader decided to opt for organically grown food from now on.
The Marketing of Our World
Chris: I know you sent out copies to some key influencers. How did you get these people to take time out of their busy schedules to read and review your book?
Ellen: Since I’m an unknown author, I knew it was essential for others, including influencers, to say they liked my book. Securing endorsements was a natural outgrowth of meeting influencers at the workshops they gave, or occasionally emailing them one of my Huffington Post articles I thought they’d like, or getting into an email conversation.
I just asked, as part of preparing my book proposal. People are often surprisingly helpful and generous. If they like you and what you’re doing, they may be inspired to help you.
Keep in mind that influencers are busy and you may have a tiny amount of time to convey what your book is about, why it’s important, how it relates to their work, and why they should listen to you. So prepare. And to feel more confident and energized, it helps to remember your big “Why” — why you are going to all this effort with this book.
Chris: Our Earth has been out for almost two months now. What are readers saying about it?
Ellen: I’m overjoyed that readers are loving this book. Of the 30 reader reviews on Amazon, 28 are five stars and 2 are four stars (on a scale of one to five). I honestly didn’t know if people would like it, especially given the downer news in Part I.
In reviews on Amazon, readers have written things like: “inspiring,” “enormously important book,” “a must-read,” “captivating,” “I will recommend to everyone I know,” “has changed my life for the better,” “you will not want to put it down,” “gave me hope,” “energized me,” “convincing and compelling,” and “we need this empowering message now, more than ever.” The book has also received glowing endorsements from well-known authors.
Key Takeaways from Writing Our Earth
Chris: You had to learn about a number of processes in writing and publishing “Our Earth,” some of them harder than others. What advice do you have for our readers who are writing and publishing their own works?
Ellen: I’ve learned so much doing this book project. A couple of things that really helped me are:
- Working on my book project first thing in the morning, and putting in focused time every day — at least an hour and often much more than that.
- Starting immediately to build my email list, social media presence, and writing/speaking website. I hired a social media consultant, who helped enormously.
- Marketing and platform building before, during, and after writing the book.
- Getting a lot of help from books, articles, webinars, and fellow authors (for example, in a master mind group). I paid for workshops, editing, website help, coaching, book design, and publishing. Having good support makes it much more enjoyable and efficient.
- Listening to a lot of people, and then doing what I want. A book is a chance to be yourself.
- Trying to enjoy the ride — which is easier said than done at times! I’ve learned to not take rejection personally.
- Being totally clear and unwavering about my “Why.”
- Now that the book is out, it creates and builds momentum to follow Jack Canfield’s “Rule of Five” — doing at least five things every work day to promote the book.
Meet the Author of Our Earth
Chris: How can our readers reach you?
Ellen: I welcome readers to get in touch. The easiest way is through the contact page on my website www.ellenmoyerphd.com.
Dr. Ellen Moyer is an environmental consultant and registered professional engineer with a B.A. in anthropology, M.S. in environmental engineering, and Ph.D. in civil engineering. She assesses and cleans up contaminated soil and groundwater and develops sustainable solutions and practices to promote environmental and human health. Her third book, Our Earth, Our Species, Our Selves: How to Thrive While Creating a Sustainable World, was released in December 2016. She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.
Feel free to ask your questions of Ellen in the comments below.