Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Long Road to Getting Published: Interview with Mary DeMuth

Mary DeMuth, Published Author

Mary DeMuth, Published Author, Speaker, Mentor

I met Mary DeMuth through Twitter about a year ago. We had a long phone conversation about getting published, writers sharing their secrets, and finding your life’s passion.

Following that, she wrote a fascinating article for an online magazine I edit about failure. Ever since then, I was hooked. I’m a fan of Mary — she lives what she preaches.

Not to mention, she’s a real, live published author. So I wanted to get her perspective on some topics that I thought would be relevant to this community.

Here’s an interview I recently did with Mary:

Jeff Goins (JG): Mary, what does it mean to be a writer?

Mary DeMuth (MD): It means that I process life through written words. And I can’t help but write every single day, particularly for an audience.

JG: How did you get published? Can you share some of your journey?

MD: I wrote my 10,000 hours (if you don’t know what I mean, read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell) in the 90s when my children were wee ones and I was a stay at home mommy. I wrote miles and miles of unpublished words in obscurity.

In the early 2000s, when my youngest started attending preschool, I got serious about my writing. I joined two critique groups, found a mentor, became a local newspaper columnist, and wrote my first novel. I attended my first major writing conference in 2003, where I met my first agent.

That year, I sold two parenting books to two different publishers. Since then I’ve published a total of eleven books. It took me a decade of behind the scenes work to hone my voice.

JG: When does a writer know that she is called to write full time?

MD: When she has a spouse who makes a decent living wage. I’m serious. I still don’t make good income (yet). I make a little more than minimum wage when you calculate the hours I spend writing. If my husband quit his job, we couldn’t live on my salary without doing some extreme things (like choosing to live in a box!)

JG: I’ve heard you before mention the struggles of writing, that it is a hard calling. Can you unpack that some more. How is it hard?

MD: Financially, it’s very frustrating. You have to settle your worth before you start the journey. It can’t be based on fame, sales, wealth. It must be based in Jesus’ love for you. Also, it’s a profession fraught with rejection.

You may think that getting published ends rejection, but it’s only the beginning. And each rejection gets harder and more personal. If you can’t handle rejection, or learn to deal with it, you shouldn’t become a writer.

You also must settle the calling on your life. When things get hard (and they will), you will have that calling to fall back on.

JG: Do you recommend working with a publisher or going the self-publishing or e-publishing route?

MD: I personally recommend creating such amazing content that a publisher picks you up. Why? Because you will learn so much about editing and creating a readable, non-put-downable book through the editorial process.

Also, it’s not good to circumvent the process just because you want your name in print. Learn first. Apprentice. Become teachable. If you do choose to self-publish, be sure you hire a professional editor, a terrific cover designer, and a trustworthy company to print your book.

JG: How does a writer establish his platform? How has blogging and other online media helped you connect with readers and gain new ones?

MD: Lots of work. I’ve been blogging since 2004. I’m practically a blogging veteran! That blog has opened a lot of doors for me. Twitter and Facebook both have driven traffic to my site.

I’d also advise having your blog on the front page of your website. It helps with traffic. Also, a good idea is to cultivate a large email distribution list. I put out a monthly ezine called “Inside Renewal.” It’s taken me several years to build up to 4000 people, but it’s been a blessing.

Remember to take the long view; building a platform doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a series of small decisions made over the long haul.

JG: You seem to do a lot of writing online; how do you find time to write books, as well? How do you balance it all?

MD: That’s a good question. When I’m under deadline, the book trumps everything else. I must write 1000-3000 words a day no matter what. Only after I do that can I stray to newsletters and blogs.

JG: What advice do you have for aspiring authors? How should they get started?

MD: Write, write, write. You won’t improve by wanting to write. You improve your writing muscle by exercising it. Get your BOC (butt on chair) and write. Give yourself daily goals (one page, 500 words, one query letter, etc.) then meet that goal.

Treat it like a profession. Be tenacious and diligent and dogged.

* * *

You can find out more about Mary on her blog and follow her on Twitter.

Check out Mary’s eBook: The 11 Secrets of Getting Published

Question for you writers: How is the writing life a hard one?

*Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links.

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. To get updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://www.nebraskagraceful.blogspot.com Michelle DeRusha

    Love Mary — great interview! And lovely to meet you here, too, Jeff. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Michelle!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

       Thanks Michelle.

  • Anonymous

    Great interview! Mary, I know you think I must be stalking you because I see you all over the place online, lol! But I just love to read your words because they resonate SO strongly with me, more than you know. Especially this answer to Jeff’s question “what does it mean to be a writer”.  Your answer, “It means that I process life through written words,” is exactly what I’ve been doing since I was 13 years old keeping journals after reading Anne Frank’s story. It wasn’t until 2 years ago…after having written dozens of newsletters (as a missionary), an article or two here or there about music, blogging pretty regularly on 3-4 different blogs, positive feedback from words I’ve written, always making good marks in school on anything having to do with writing, and of course journaling, that it finally dawned on me “Duh, I’m a writer!” I have only been seriously wrapping my head around this identity since January, and it has been a fun and exciting journey. Right now, “publishing” or “getting published” is not so much my goal as it is to learn how to effectively communicate in such a way to truly minister to the people in whose hands God would put my words. At this point, I don’t really care how He does it, but it seems He is leading me down the path of publication. After being a missionary, musician, stay at home mom, and teacher, I think it would be safe to say that “making money” is not my overriding goal in life, lol!

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing these insights…and for introducing me to yet another great blog!!! Blessings to you both!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Thanks for the comment!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Yes, stay here at Jeff’s blog. He has some great stuff. I’m so thankful you’re pursuing your passion.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        Thanks, Mary!

  • http://www.tillhecomes.org Jeremy Myers

     Mary, 
    What if I am the spouse that is trying to bring in the income, AND I am the one who wants to be a writer? Ha! 

    I think that decade of writing in obscurity gets stretched out to two or three decades…

    Also, what is the recommended online platform for authors? 

    Daily blog Stats: ___
    RSS Feed: ___
    Twitter: ___
    Facebook: ___

    I know it is different for everyone, but is there a target goal?

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

       For you, Jeremy, the key will be diversification. I also coach writers, edit, take pictures, and write ebooks. Try to find a way to have passive income.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        I love that!

      • http://www.tillhecomes.org Jeremy Myers

        *Sigh* Well, I barely get time to write a blog post a day right now. I am taking the long view on getting published, I guess…

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          sounds like the RIGHT way! :)

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      It’s hard to say about stats. I can say I get about 500 visits a day, have almost 10,000 twitter followers, and 2000 facebook fans. That’s taken me a while to get to. There are many more who have more than me.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        Followup question: Mary, what have you done to grow that? Do you advise building a platform and then writing, or writing to build a platform?

        • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

           I think it needs to be a both/and. Build a platform and write.

          • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

            Thanks. Good advice. I agree. That’s what I’m trying to do, anyway. We’ll see if it works.

      • http://www.tillhecomes.org Jeremy Myers

        Whew! Thanks. I have a long way to go I guess….

        I’m at 500 visits a day, but only have 500 Twitter followers and  370 FB friends. But I only started Twitter about two months ago, so that’s no too bad. 

        Another author I talked to said a good rule of thumb for him was the RSS Feed since it is the hardest to get and reveals who are “truly” interested readers. He says the target goal is 1000 RSS readers daily. Yikes!

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          Man, it took me like two years to get 500 twitter followers. You’re doing great!

    • Anonymous

       This is my issue, Jeremy! I am the “breadwinning” spouse right now and I’m very much torn between pursuing my passion and “bringing in an income”. I’m blogging about it this week in fact!

  • http://peterpaluska.com Peter Paluska

    Wow, really good, pertinent questions, Jeff!
    And Mary is a refreshing voice on the writing scene. No surprises here: do the work, do it some more, keep at it. This ain’t rocket science, folks, just plain persistence.

    Thanks for this fine interview!

    Peter

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

       Thanks Peter.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Peter! I found Mary’s perspective on not bypassing traditional publishers to be fascinating. I’ll be interviewing some other folks soon that offer varying opinions on this topic. Stay tuned.

  • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

    First, thank you Jeff for sharing this interview with Mary.
    Second, thank you Mary for the practical insights into what it means to be a real writer.

    As I’m exploring writing through the blogging platform I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to write a book (or two) and appreciate your advice about BOC.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

       You can do it, ThatGuy! It just takes time and diligence.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        Love how she called you by your first name, KC… “ThatGuy” – hah!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Ditto! I think most bloggers who have experienced some success or just plain enjoy what they do have thought about this. I know that I have.

  • http://eileenknowles.blogspot.com eileen

     Mary, Thank you for sharing what you have learned with us. The idea of writing a book has appealed to me for a few years.  Ever since I started reading to my son and came across some really bad books.   I would often think, how in the world did this get published??  I could do better than this!  But, of course, that’s all talk until you do it.  I stepped out of my fear of putting words on paper a couple years ago.  It’s been an enjoyable journey!  I read Jeff’s blog and other bloggers who seem to know what they are talking about just so I can continue to learn.  Who knows where it might lead one day.  For now, I am just enjoying the journey of creating and love any advice people are willing to share.  So thanks!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Eileen. We’re on this journey together — I have those same thoughts when I pass by books in the bookstore.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

       It’s important to realize like you have that you have to write and learn to write well to be published. You can’t think about those published writers who seem to not have talent. Focus on your strengths and build your body of work.

  • Anonymous

     Great stuff! It can be hard to build a portfolio for freelance work, as you have to write to get experience, but you have to have experience to write. It can be a catch 22.

    I have sent my book proposal to one publisher, but haven’t heard anything back. Should I wait, or continue to send query letters and proposals out?

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

       Yes, that dratted catch 22.

      Keep sending that proposal. The publishing process takes eons, so don’t wait around for a yes or no. Keep submitting.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        Is there a guide for writing a book proposal that you recommend, Mary?

        • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

           Is that a leading question? I have one on my website, 75+ pages of tutorial and actual proposal examples. I’ve had several of my clients get agents or publishing contracts because of my tutorial. Here’s the link: http://www.marydemuth.com/store/book-proposal/

          • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

             The document is in Word. It has a template in the back where you can copy and paste the template into your own document. Answer the questions and fill in the blanks, and you have a proposal.

            • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

              Awesome. Yes, that was a slight setup. I thought you had something, but wasn’t sure. Thanks!

          • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

            a little bit. ;)

  • Mollie Lyon

    Your insight is so helpful and encouraging.  I have established concrete goals this year as I have received more help with the internet..  A job that I detested really helped 5 years ago with my typing skills- I flunked typing in high school.  I was encouraged to write in high school by my journalism class teacher, but took the practical career of nursing.  Knowing it is a long journey and having practical insight into the dream is carrying me to retirement.  I do hope to have success before 16 years.  Yes, writing is hard when you work full time, have no help with maintaining a household and seem to spend more time in a car than anywhere else!  Also the financial difficulties of computer repairs and sharing the computer with the family has delayed the dream, but there is always my handwritten journal.  Thank you so much for the articles.   Read, read, read, write, write, write.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Thanks for the comment, Mollie!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

       Mollie, it sounds like you have a full life. Try to tuck your dream into the corners of your life. Yes, keep that journal. And pray that the Lord would supply a laptop that works that’s only yours. That will help.

  • http://duane-Scott.net/ Duane Scott

     This is one of the best interviews I’ve read online. Seriously. I’m marking it as unread. Either that, or I’m going to print it off. 

    Someday I want to write a book. 

    So right now, I need to listen to Mary DeMuth. 

    I’ve been silently stalking her for about a year now. :) 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, man. She’s awesome! I told you she was the real deal. ;)

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

       Duane, it’s always nice to be stalked. LOL!

      Write that book. Do it. Now. Start. Make some goals. Join a critique group. Write it!

  • http://www.mustardseedyear.com Jason Wert

     Great interview, man.  Seriously great.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Jason. Glad you liked it!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

       Thank you Jason. I know we’ve met or interacted but can’t place you. Can you refresh my memory?

      • http://www.mustardseedyear.com Jason Wert

        I’m trying to remember…were you at Blue Ridge in 2010?   

        • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

           No, but maybe we emailed?

  • http://twitter.com/melissa_rae Melissa Brotherton

     What I love about Mary is that she’s genuine. The things I got from this interview are what I get from her website and from face-to-face conversations with her. This is great advice…and it’s so helpful for me as a SAHM of young ones to know that my 10,000 hours can have a pay-off in the future if I just keep at it. Nice to meet you, Jeff…I look forward to reading more from you as well! :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks for reading, Melissa!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

       Ah, that helps! I’m glad I come across as genuine, as that’s my heart.

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  • http://movethemountains.blogspot.com Chad Jones

    I’m still mad about Daisy Chain!

    ;-)

    Just kidding! Love your work, and your honesty, Mary!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Sorry Chad!!!

  • http://modernservantleader.com/ Benjamin Lichtenwalner

    BOC – Love that. Been a fan of Mary’s for some time now. We’re blessed to have her input and mentoring us aspiring authors. But I admit, given all she does and shares, it’s disappointing to realize her income still does not reflect the value she provides.

    Your spot-on as always Mary: It needs to be a calling. I am so grateful part of your own calling is helping us with ours. Blessings.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Ah, thanks Benjamin! I’m learning to be faithful in little.

  • Alyssa

    Ah, my first two twitter followers on the same post! Thank you so much for investing in others. For years it seemed like anyone published held the keys to the secret “how to get published” lockbox and refused to share. It has been amazing to find my real-life and on-line communities that encourage and support each other – it has literally moved me into actively accepting the calling God’s put on my life to serve him through the written word. Mary, you are right when you say it takes miles of writing to hone your voice. It would show up here and there, but after years of writing and rewriting, my authentic voice is stronger. For that reason alone, I am glad for my season of obscurity.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      thanks for the comment, alyssa, and for reading.