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My Convoluted Pathway to Authorship


Someone asked me one day how I became an author. In turn, I asked them, "How much time do you have? It's a long story!"


Because some of my readers might also be wondering the same thing, I'll share the short (at least as short as I can make it) answer in this post.


It all began during my second year of teaching. I was getting increasingly more frustrated by my students' apparent lack of motivation to work, study, and learn. I often returned home at the end of an especially trying day of futile attempts at motivating them and complained to my wife of my woes. Every once in a while, when she was too busy with her own schoolwork to listen, I would sit down and write about my frustrations. It was a way to vent, I guess, a form of therapy.


After several such occasions, I read to her what I had written. She would listen and offer suggestions. I'd set the writing aside and then come back to add to it after every frustrating episode. And I'd read the whole thing to her again.


One day as I started to burden her yet again with my ongoing saga, she cut me short.


"Either get it published somewhere or throw it away. But don't read it to me again. I'm tired of hearing it!"


Ouch! That cut me to the quick. My pride was badly bruised. But it was as though she had thrown down the gauntlet. I had to accept the challenge or lose face. My pride demanded it!


I revised, polished, typed, and, in February 1981, submitted it to one of the journals to which I subscribed, one I thought was the closest "fit" for my subject. (In hindsight, it was a very bad fit, but. . . .) Less than a week later and much to my amazement ("O ye of little faith!"), I got a short letter from the journal's managing editor accepting the article and informing me that it would be published in their first open issue, "probably May."

In late April 1981, I received in the mail three copies of the May issue of that journal and a check for $300. I was on the proverbial Cloud Nine. I had moved from the nebulous state of being a writer to being a published author! From there, I went on, even while continuing to teach, to have a dozen more articles published in that journal and many more in other magazines.


As gratifying and fulfilling as having articles published was, the great desire inside me was to have a book published. I began another leg of my publishing journey, which often took me on interesting but seemingly unrelated side journeys. It led me first to a job as an editor for a major defense contractor, where I worked my way up from a lowly technical publications analyst to senior technical editor.


When the end of the Cold War and the resulting budget cuts ended that leg of the journey, I did editing freelance for seven years. Most of my work involved editing books and curriculum materials. I was still writing and publishing articles, honing my skills, and learning about the book-publishing industry. I was close to books, but none was my own.

Then I got a job with an educational publisher as an author/reviser of history textbooks. That job, I discovered involved more mere revision of what others had already written than my own writing. I did, however, get to do some original writing, but the byline still belonged to the original authors.


Finally, as I approached retirement age, I decided to ease myself into senior citizenship rather than becoming a full-time retiree. I would write my own books. (I had a college professor who opined that no one was ready or should attempt to write a book until he or she was 50 years old. I guess I was a late bloomer because I had passed 60 before I started the quest in earnest.)


The first day of "retirement," I got up as though going to my former job, prepared a book proposal package on a topic I had been researching and writing for several years, and submitted duplicate copies to two publishers that I considered my best chances for acceptance.


Within an hour, I received an email invitation from one of the publishers to submit an outline and sample chapters. By the close of business that same day, I had a similar invitation from the other publisher. Within a day or two, I had the requested packages submitted to both. By the end of that week, I had a contract offer from the first publisher. After a discussion with the second publisher, I accepted that first offer. Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries was published by McFarland seven months later in 2016. I was now a book author!


Since that time, I have continued to write articles occasionally, but most of my time has been devoted to researching and writing books. My books! My topics! And I'm still learning; I don't think I've "arrived" yet.

Combat! Lessons on Spiritual Warfare from Military History was released in 2020, Christ in Camp and Combat: Religious Work in the Confederate Armies in 2021, and Evangelism and Expulsion: Missionary Work among the Cherokees until Removal in 2022, all by TouchPoint Press. I've signed a contract for Dillon's War, which is on the docket to begin the editing process in April of this year, hopefully in time for a summer 2023 release. And several other projects are in the works, so stay tuned.


Meanwhile, how are you doing on your own writing journey? Don't be discouraged. Persevere. If I could do it, so can you! Your journey will, no doubt, differ from mine in many ways. It will take you over different terrain, and you ill face different challenges. But if you are willing to follow the twists and turns along the way, you, too, can make it.

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Joy Neal Kidney
Joy Neal Kidney
Feb 10, 2023

Do you still read things to your wife?

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