• Renate Stendhal
  • From the First Self-Publishing Summit to a First Self-Published Book, Part 3
From the First Self-Publishing Summit to a First Self-Published Book, Part 3
Written by
Renate Stendhal
April 2014
Written by
Renate Stendhal
April 2014

Prize-winning authors Kim Chernin and Renate Stendhal talk about The Do’s and Don’ts of Proper Writer’s Etiquette.

Renate: Thanks to the Supreme Court decision in California, we had a topic for our new book: lesbian marriage. And, thanks to She Writes, we had the potentially perfect guide into the new world of e-publishing, Kindle expert Howard VanEs. Howard, too, thought it was a great and timely topic. Go for it! he told us.

Kim: I noticed over the years that when the timing is right, things tend to come together. Out of the blue, friends offered us a house-sit on Maui for an entire month: the perfect setting, we felt, for a writing retreat.

Renate: And a premarital honeymoon with cocktails on the beach!

Kim: It was instantly clear what the book would be: a light-hearted but serious guide for couples who suddenly had the privilege, but also the mounting pressures, of marriage. As a long-term committed couple and as relationship experts, we had a lot to say.

Renate: But we didn’t want a big, heavy lesbian relationship “bible.” We imagined a short, easy, handy book with tools for the major challenges couples are likely to face in marriage.

Kim: I could already see what would happen to this book in New York, at a major publishing house: the sales force would insist that the book be all-inclusive, not focused on the lesbian “niche” market; it would have to be adapted to a standard form -- a conventional how-to or self-help book like the many others already in existence. In which case, I had already lost interest in writing it.

Renate: I liked the idea of a tongue-in-cheek “etiquette” book. Kim liked the idea of telling stories. We looked at each other on the way to Maui and went, Hey, we can have it all. This is OUR book! Let’s have fun.

Kim: We found 12 major problems of long-term relationships which we called Challenges. These were our stories, some of them our own, others from friends and clients.

Renate: Of course, stories would not do all by themselves. There had to be interpretation. Reflection. A sort of “moral of the story,” which we called, Let’s See.

Kim: We had already learned from our previous book collaborations that no idea would be rejected. It would be welcomed, turned over many times, placed and replaced. As the pages grew on our I-Pads, we lost track of whose idea an idea originally was. We knew that any idea generated in the course of a conversation belongs equally to both participants.

Renate: Here we were, on the beach, at the next best café, on our deck, in bed, making sentences together in a continuous, sometimes obsessive dialogue. At times, we divided tasks, especially telling the stories. Some were our individual experience,; we decided to disclose a lot about our own couple, the way we worked out those Challenges over time.

Kim: We had to deal with many interruptions when one of us stormed in with a new sentence or idea. We had to come up with some ground rules: the Do’s and Don’ts of proper writer’s etiquette.
Like, DO wait for the other writer to finish a sentence! DON’T spell out the thought the other one has on the tip of her tongue! DO wait your turn; it is sure to come. And often you’ll have the same idea at the same moment anyway.

Renate: These basic “rules of engagement” gave us an idea: Why not structure our book just like that – with lists of simple, direct DO’s and DON’Ts for every problem we were addressing?

Kim: In short, a toolkit. Keeping sex and romance alive with a toolkit.

Renate: That was YOUR idea.

Kim: No. You came up with it.

Renate: You always have to be right, don’t you?

Kim: Always-never: just what couples do! We had a good laugh after many such moments and named one of our 12 major Challenges “You Always, I Never – Grudges and Bed Death”!

Renate: We’d be laughing at the silliest things – typos, misnomers, eccentric spelling, corky formulations, nutty ideas.

Kim: It felt like we had driven away the editorial super-ego and invited the id to write our book.

Renate: Translation, please.

Kim: Just another way to say we were not taking ourselves too seriously. Because there was no traditional publisher breathing down our neck; because this was our own book, we were having fun.

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