KAREN: Good afternoon! Welcome to Expert Authors Unplugged! I’m Karen Lynn Maher for Legacy One Authors, and my guest today on is Peggy Jennings-Severe, author of two books: Life Talks: A Guide to Bringing Back Conversation and Life Talks: The Conversation Continues. Both are available on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Peggy+Severe+Jennings.
PEGGY: Thanks. It’s good to have this time with you.
KAREN: I’m excited to share you with my interview and blog audiences. So, let’s jump right into it. We both know authors have unique challenges. If you’re a budding writer, you’re anticipating these. When you reflect on your own journey, what prominent challenges did you face and overcome?
PEGGY: When I think of my fellow writers, one thing that jumps out as a common obstacle is speaking in public, but that wasn’t a problem for me. I was a dean of recruitment—I’d always spoke in public. The details of bringing the manuscript to publication and bringing the book to successful sales were not easy, but the writing sure was. My biggest challenge was thinking of myself as an author and then presenting myself as one. The difficulty was compounded because I didn’t have a publishing house behind me—I self-published.
KAREN: What steps did you take to help you embrace author role?
PEGGY: In one sense, what I did was simple–I just started acting like an author in my speaking engagements. I was wise enough to start small. I went to famer’s markets and book fairs and other venues in the local community. I chose groups where I knew the people or knew they were the kind of people who would have my back. I started to get my “author” self-concept anchored that way. Then I expanded. I presented at groups with more unknowns.
Truth to tell, you really helped me, Karen. You pointed out that my comfort level with doing presentations was already high, so I could do a little sleight of hand where I just reconceived myself as a consultant—a consultant who just happened to have written a book I still didn’t quite see myself as an author, yet–that wasn’t how I saw my strengths. But I had a message to share about conversation, connection, and community, and a role as a consultant around those things that I was wholly aligned with.
KAREN: Yes, that seems like a natural evolution from the talks we had. You saw the book as adjunct to the work you were already doing in the world.
PEGGY: Yes. It all came clear one time when I was presenting to the mothers of a preschool group. At the end of the talk, I was able to highlight the book as a useful resource to support the kind of conversations they wanted to have in their community—almost as a second thought.
KAREN: Why did you choose “conversations” as the topic for your book? What kind of conversations does the book focus on?
PEGGY: Let me start by saying something about great leaders: they are connected. They have networks. Networks are foundational for people to achieve their missions in life. The people who make up our network—our friends and colleagues—give us the knowledge and emotional support we need to pursue our various missions joyfully.
I developed skills for helping people network back in high school and I refined that process when a taught a college class called, College and Life Success. In the middle of a class, I’d ask, “How are you going to stay connected?” My graduate school experiences had planted a seed about the value of open-ended questions. I had a passion for injecting them into divergent settings. I wanted to create the conditions for people to ask questions that lead to the kind of conversations that would help them experience the most out of their relationships.
Now, to specifically answer your question. My first book partly grew out of the playful birthday conversations we had in my family. Instead of giving cards, our birthdays were a time for asking open-ended questions, and from that we were able to share what we appreciated about each another.
When these parties ended, friends wanted Cliff Notes on how they could repeat what they’d experienced. They wanted those meaningful questions for their own special occasions.
That’s when I realized this activity—knowing how to have meaningful conversations—could have a wider appeal and serve more people. Once that came clear, I basically just amassed the questions I’d developed for graduations, retirements, family talks first dates, etc. and put them into a book.
KAREN: It’s great to see how your thoughts evolved. Can you describe other challenges you faced to get your book written, published and sold? What should aspiring authors anticipate?
PEGGY: You know, I would have been overwhelmed in the beginning if I had a crystal ball to see what writing this book would demand of me. Believe me, I now have more admiration for authors—and especially successful ones—than I ever had before.
So many things challenged and scared me, but ultimately they provided the occasion for great successes. Each one contributed to my maturity as a writer.
I had to learn new computer skills and marketing. I had to figure out the paperwork for a business license. I had to face new territory in publishing a website. Because of your encouragement to make a newsletter, I had to learn to do that. At another point, I was given 24 hours write an article for a parenting magazine. That was a new skill.
But one meta-skill—and one that clearly relates to the theme of the book—was to learn to “break the ice” and network with other entrepreneurs.
I’m really happy I surrounded myself with confident and supportive people. They shared my enthusiasm for my vision when I needed it and contributed skills I lacked to the whole book campaign.
In short, this grand process of writing a book taught me many things, but most significantly, it taught me to learn how to learn.
KAREN: That’s a lesson for whatever we want to do in life, don’t you think?
KAREN: I think about networking. The help of others is so important, isn’t it?
PEGGY: Yes. And I think about protecting my efforts—protecting the writing of the book as it matured. While I worked on the project, I only shared it with people who I knew would support me.
This is another lesson every new author should know: be careful who you share your process with—especially initially. Bring it only to the people who are behind you.
KAREN: Yes. New writers feel enough self-doubt, self-criticism, and imposter syndrome without it being helped along—intentionally or unintentionally—by others.
PEGGY: You’re right.
KAREN:. We have to surround ourselves with people who are positive and supportive, or who will connect us to people who will be supportive.
PEGGY: Case in point: I learned of you through my brother. So yes, I agree!
KAREN: Switching gears, how has writing and publishing your book benefitted you professionally?
PEGGY: That’s a great open-ended question!
As you know, I was newly retired. I was afraid of becoming irrelevant and I wanted to stay engaged—I wanted to keep meeting people and building connections. This book and my other one, helped me to transition to a purposeful, alive, and engaged retirement.
In this process, I redefined success. At book fairs, the number of books I sold wasn’t the important thing. Making important connections was. Improving my presentation of the book and being in service to others was also a win.
It’s been said before, but the satisfaction came in focusing on the process.
I love to sell books and that remains a big goal, but if I don’t sell, that’s not a negative. My successes come in expanding the web of people who are excited about and supportive of what I’m doing.
The feedback I get from my network has also become part of my “win.”
There would be times when I thought myself silly for trying to pass myself off as an author. Then I’d get an email that would reaffirm everything I was doing, and I’d remember that my work fill a void. That was huge.
KAREN: I love when that happens.
PEGGY: Me, too!
KAREN: I know you learned tons about promoting yourself and your book—some of which you’ve talked about here. What do you see as the number one tip for marketing?
PEGGY: Make yourself visible. There’s so many ways people do this nowadays.
You told me about Business Network International. I got two good contacts from BNI from the first meeting I attended. And, as I said before, you prodded me to write a newsletter, which turned out to be lots of fun. Like so many others, I also kept expanding my number of FaceBook friends. I just kept building up every one of those things.
As you might guess, I’ll never fail to bring an email sign-up list to my events again!
KAREN: Good for you.
PEGGY: Now my process is to try and follow up with all of my FaceBook friends, the people who attend my presentations and workshops. My work is to widen my circle. All authors should do this any way they feel comfortable doing so.
KAREN: Books are a business in and of themselves. A writer has to get comfortable with staying visible.
PEGGY: Yes. We’ve been talking about provocative questions and identity, and you brought these two together when I was working on this problem. You asked me, “Do you want to keep being an author with limited exposure, or are you will you create a ripple effect for your message that establishes you as a real professional?”
KAREN: That was a big question!
PEGGY: Yes. It helped me face my fear of success.
KAREN: Great. Is there any last thing you want to share?
PEGGY: Yes. One of the biggest “aha” moments for me was when I boiled my message down to three guiding principles. The first is, “Each of us wants to be heard”—which relates to my theme of conversation. The second is, “Each of us wants to connect with others”—which relates to connection. The third is, ”Each of us wants to belong”—which relates to community.
What I got from that is that my underlying message was positive. It was a constructive and good message. That might seem obvious, but I didn’t quite see it, yet. When I did, it affirmed my idea of “mission” that I mentioned earlier. I realized I had a good mission. My role as a writer was to spread that goodness to the world. And that’s what really made me an author.
KAREN: You realized that you’re fulfilling something bigger than yourself.
KAREN: And that sustains you as you keep writing.
PEGGY: It does!
KAREN: Peggy, how can people get hold of you and buy a copy of your book?
KAREN: That’s Awesome. Peggy, it is always a joy to talk with you, and it’s been a privilege for me to help you in your process these past few months. I look forward to sharing your wisdom through this interview.
PEGGY: You’ve been so very valuable to me, too, Karen. This interview’s been a great opportunity to give back by sharing a little bit of what I’ve learned. Thank you.