1. What inspired you to write Looking Backward, Going Forward: Reflections on a Writer's Life? Two of my closest friends passed away from health-related causes. Both were relatively young -- in their late 60s or early 70s. It reminded me of my own mortality and that I wanted to reflect on my life, on what I've experienced and what I've learned, and to put it down for my family, friends, and for aspiring and even seasoned writers and those in the publishing and art and academic worlds to hopefully benefit from my journey and my insights.
2. What exactly is it about and who is it written for? My memoir is written for anyone who finds it exciting to get the chance to explore someone's journey, literally from birth through her early years, school, my challenges, setbacks, and triumphs.
3. What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book? Through some of the stories I tell hopefully the reader will be able to apply it to his or her own life and/or work, or they'll just find it an interesting read! The Midwest Book Review just sent me a copy of the review that is appearing in their Wisconsin Bookwatch, June 2023 edition. Let me quote from it because they praised Looking Backward, Going Forward:
"A fascinating, informative, and articulate memoir that will have a very special interest to aspiring authors, publishers, booksellers, library publicists, amateur and professional book reviewers, students of the publishing industry, and dedicated bibliophiles...."
4. How did you decide on your book’s title and cover design? Some of my titles I have to think long and hard about, like the title of my first nonfiction book, The Vegetable Passion: A history of the Vegetarian State of Mind. But this title just came to me as "the title." It perfectly summed up just what I wanted to achieve in my memoir. Yes, I wanted to be looking back and sharing about my life till now, but I also wanted it to be a new beginning and, interestingly enough, it really has been! I'm so excited about what I'm doing now and will be doing in the future. Writing, and publishing, my memoir, Looking Backward, Going Forward, has definitely been a catalyst to that renewed energy about people especially family, friends, colleagues, students, and clients, work, leisure time, teaching, mentoring, coaching, making a documentary, and so much more!
I originally designed the cover. I wanted to include a current picture of me and my self-portrait which I painted when I was an art major at Hofstra University. I wasn't 100% pleased with the final cover so I gave all the elements to one of the cover designers I have worked with many times, Nancy Batra, and she "tweaked" it so together the final cover became a reality!
5. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers – other than run!? My advice is to believe in yourself and put care and thought into everything you write whether it's a blog, an article, a play, a screenplay, or a book. I took three semesters of a non-credit nonfiction writing course at The New School with Hayes B. Jacobs after I graduated college and I found that very helpful. Also, read excellent writing. You don't want to imitate what other writers are doing. You want to find your own voice and style. But reading helps you see what's "working" and you also expand your knowledge. Be open to feedback -- I prefer that word to criticism -- but take from it what you agree is c orrect and reject the rest. You have to have a thick skin to be a writer! My book, FRIENDSHIFTS, which landed me interviews on OPRAH, THE VIEW, THE TODAY SHOW, and so many more major shows, and was praised by PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and LIBRARY JOURNA, and sold so well that Simon & Schuster asked me to do a new book on friendship for them -- which became WHEN FRIENDSHIP HURTS -- well, FRIENDSHIFTS was rejected by more than 100 literary agents or publishers. the academic publishers told me it was a terrific premise and/or proposal, but it was too popular for their list. the popular publishers liked it, but wrote that it was too academic for their list. So I founded my own publishing company, Hannacroix Creek Books, inc., and FRIENDSHIFTS became our first title! My late friend actor David Carradine said it so well in an e-mail me back in July of 2001 - "There are no failures in Hollywood, only people who give up too soon." That can be said about book authors or playwrights as well.
6. What trends in the book world do you see -- and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? Great question! When I started my own company in 1996, self-publishing was in its infancy. My first books were done through what was known as a "short run," a traditional printing of 2,000 to 3,000 books at a time. That was expensive and obviously you had better sell those books or you will have a lot of inventory sitting in the warehouse or in the corner of your living room or in your garage. But starting in 1999, when Lighting Source introduced POD - print on demand - the world of publishing changed dramatically. You could now publish one book at a time!
Soon, as publishing became more affordable --
and you even had the development of KDP printing, part of Amazon.com, with no
up front costs at all to get a book into their system and selling as long as it
met their quality standards -- the number of self-published books grew by leaps
What does that mean for a writer? The good
news is that the stigma was minimized about having a self-publishing book but
the competition became so much greater to get the attention of the potential
reader and the media. Overwhelmed by how many books they have to consider, some
media and even the bookstores said they only wanted books published by houses
that were known to them, big or small, the Simon & Schuster or Wileys of
That's actually why I wrote HOW TO PROMTE YOUR
BOOK, which was published in 2023 by Square One Publishers. Although its become
harder to get on traditional media for authors who are not celebrities or
published by major houses, getting publicity through blogs, social media, and
podcasts have become some of the many ways authors whether self-published or
published by a commercial house, can get attention for their books.
Another important trend is the phenomenal
growth of podcasts. One of my titles, HOW TO FINISH EVERYTHING YOU START, has
become a big seller as an audiobook (although the e-book and print versions are
selling nicely as well). The audiobook, narrated by Gale Cruz, has "taken
off" and its exciting for that development.
I try to have my own titles and the titles that my company publishers available in all three formats - e-book, print, and audiobook since potential readers or listeners tend to have their preferred way of getting their content.
7. Were there experiences in your personal life or career that came in handy when writing this book? Interesting question. I think the chapter in my book HOW TO FINISH EVERYTHING YOU START on how to finish that book you started helped me to finish the memoir. I had actually started it right before I turned 70. It was supposed to be a gift to myself for my 70th birthday. But 70 and then 71 and then 72 went by but the memoir was still not finished. so I reread the chapter I wrote on finishing a book and my own advice was helpful to me as I pushed forward to get it done and OTD - Out the Door == the acronym I share in my book, WORK LESS, DO MORE!
So my time management skills of goal setting and concentration helped me and also having a wonderful husband, Fred Yager, family, and friends, who understood if I had to say "no" to distractions if I was trying to finish the memoir. I talked to my first cousins about our grandparents and was surprised to discover how little any of us know about our grandparents and definitely about our great grandparents. I hope somehow I can learn more about them.
8. How would you describe your writing style? Which writers or books is your writing similar to? I would prefer for readers to read Looking Backward, Going Forward, and for them to answer that question for themselves. Rather than say which writers or books my writing is similar to, let me share some of the books and authors whose works I have read and I admire: Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie; Final Gifts; Ibsen's play, The Wild Duck; Viktor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning; Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment; 1984 by George Orwell; Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People; and so many more. Books on my ';to read" list - most definitely When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.
9. What challenges did you overcome in the writing of this book? I had to decide what stories or anecdotes to include and which ones to leave out, for a variety of reasons. I had to keep the book to a manageable length since I know everyone's busy these days. I also wanted to make sure that readers did get out of my journey lessons about life and especially about writing and publishing that they might find helpful in their own literary path although of course everyone is unique and every life and path to publishing is individual as well. Also, since it was important to me to include pictures in the book, deciding on what pictures to include was also challenging but I'm pleased with the results. One of my favorite pictures is the one of puppeteer Jim Henson holding my son Scott and Kermit since I brought Scott, who was around 1-12. years old and I didn't have a babysitter, with me to the interview that day. I asked Jim Henson if he wouldn't mind holding Scott while I got my tape recorder out of my tote and he was happy to oblige!
10. If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours? Let me quoting from the Wisconsin Bookwatch June 2023 review: "...Jan has a lot to share about writing, getting published, and some of the adventures she has had going on cross country and even international author tours."
Readers who read my book in e-book or print
format, or listen to the audiobook, will learn about the murder of my
23-year-old brother Seth Barkas a week before my first wedding, and how that
tragedy motivated me to get a masters in criminal justice and to become a crime
victim advocate, a teacher of criminology and victimology courses at colleges
and in graduate programs, and to become the author of a leading textbook, Essentials
of Victimology (Aspen Publishing, 2022), which has been adopted in
more than a dozen colleges and universities.
I have a lot to share with readers about life
and about time management, crime, friendship, writing, getting published,
getting on the Oprah Winfrey Show and even on The View, and so much more. I am
a positive person and despite the tough times in my life -- there's even a part
toward the beginning of the memoir entitled, "The Day I Hit Rock
Bottom," I want readers who want to publish that first or that tenth book
to come away from reading Looking Backward, Going Forward,
thinking, "If Jan can do it, so can I!"
About The Author: Jan has been writing since she was ten years old. Her first nonfiction book was published by Scribner when she was 27, beginning with an appearance on THE TODAY SHOW, followed by a cross-country tour. Jan's worked in publishing -- at Macmillan, then at Grove Press-- and she's been published by such major houses as Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, Penguin Random house, and others. Her 50+ books are translated into 35 languages. She has also been teaching at the college level since her mid-twenties. She has an MA in criminal justice and a Ph.D. in Sociology from The City University of New York Graduate Center. In Jan's memoir, you'll read about the famous people she's met or interviewed, including poet Allen Ginsberg, puppeteer Jim Henson, her brother's robbery/homicide when she was 20, how she met, and married, the love of her life in 23 days, and more! Jan's main website is: https://www.drjanyager.com
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