I LOVE meeting authors! And I really love meeting authors who have to squeeze the demands of their dreams around their busy lives. Charity Hawkins, author of The Homeschool Experiment is one of those writer/moms who besides being a homeschool mom in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is also funny, humble and realistic. She answered a few questions about her book, The Homeschool Experiment and about writing life in general.
But first, The Homeschool Experiment. This book was a fun, honest picture of what life is like in a household where a homeschooling lifestyle is chosen. I was so there. The mom, heroine of the story, Julianne, was so much like me when I was a young homeschooling mom. She, like me, is constantly second guessing herself, questioning whether or not she’s a good mom, and discovering what is good and what works for her family. This book, which is full of laughs, spot-on observations, and a few gentle pokes at the expectations of moms everywhere, is full of grace. I am glad that moms and writers like Charity have picked this subject up so that the reality of homeschooling — all its messiness and doubt and humility can be seen. The author was so accurate in this, I found myself stressing out with the main character and I’ve been homeschooling for eleven years! This is a sign that the writing hits all the right buttons emotionally. Thank you Charity!
1. What was it that inspired you to write a novel, not another nonfiction book about homeschooling?
I think God gave me the idea to write it as fiction. I had literally never considered writing a novel before. I was reading Little Women with my book club and realized how much wisdom Marmee was sharing. The truths in Little Women wouldn’t have been so effective in a non-fiction book. We learn through stories. I do anyway. I learn as the characters learn. I learn as I see the characters making mistakes, and I want to scream, “Don’t do it!” but we get to enjoy the lesson because it’s not our mistake.
I had been wanting to write about this journey of homeschooling, how it was such a hard process for me, and was originally thinking of doing maybe a series of essays throughout the first year. I wasn’t sure if it would be a blog or what, but once I had the idea of a novel, it all fell immediately into place.
Also, I realized I like writing fiction because I can make stuff up. I structure things however I want to move the story along.
2. How close to real life was it?
Pretty close. The kids and husband are about like mine. The extended family was made up, and actually quite different from real life. I needed an antagonist, so the mother-in-law became the natural person to voice all the objections we might hear against homeschooling. The story is about a mom’s first year of homeschooling, but also about doing something that is hard even when we’re terrified.
3. How did you find time to write with all of your other responsibilities?
I pretty much didn’t cook for a year. My husband watched the kids all the time. It was super, super intense during certain times. Once I had the idea and started diagramming the plot and knowing what would go into each chapter, I was on fire. I wrote the first draft in about 3 weeks. I’d think about the scene I would be writing that night throughout the day. I wrote the book when we were done with school in the spring (and we were done in mid-April that year because I was just done). So we’d go to the park and I’d be watching the kids, envisioning the scene in my head, imagining the dialogue, as if I were there. Then as soon as my husband got home from work I’d work 6 pm to midnight. It was completely unbalanced. But when you’re in a creative frenzy, what can you do? Then as critiques came in from beta readers I did many, many, many, many revisions. I think the final Word document I sent in was version 30 or something. I did a lot of rewriting, so that was a busy time. Then later when it came time to hard-core line edit, that was a huge amount of hours as well, but it was over the Christmas break, so my mom was visiting and she watched the kids for like a week straight while I moaned and wanted to gouge my eyes out from all the commas and the agony of that darn Chicago Manual of Style.
So, if you’re noticing that’s a completely unbalanced, unsustainable schedule, you’d be right. We’ll get to that a few questions later.
4. Describe your marketing plan. How did you decide what to try? Did you have any mentors?
I have a weird love of marketing. I read most of the marketing books on Chip MacGregor’s blog. I jotted down ideas. You know how people say, “I threw a bunch of spaghetti to the wall to see what would stick.” That’s pretty much what I did. As far as mentors, anything Ree Drummond does is probably a good idea. I learned from what other big bloggers in homeschooling/mothering/education were doing.
I guess the most helpful thing I did was I made a big project plan on a piece of posterboard and hung it up on the wall. I had line items for “blog tour,” and “publicity” and “guest posts” and “endorsements” and so on. I copied a lot of stuff LitFuse publicity does for their blog tours, but I don’t think that generated many sales. Doing a press release and sending out to traditional print media (even in my hometown) ended up being a waste of time.
The absolutely most effective thing for me was to tap into big audiences online. For example, I found homeschool sites with huge Facebook audiences, then either write to the author and ask if they’d like a review copy of the book with a copy for a giveaway or let them know I’d be happy to do a guest post. I’d give them some topics I thought might be interesting for their target audience. I would then write a guest post targeted to their audience with pictures. I made it very easy for them to say yes. Then when they would run the guest post, I’d see a spike in book sales on Amazon. Of course, when the review was on Pioneer Woman, the Amazon sales spiked. I think it was #2 in the homeschool category for that weekend. (That is still not a huge number of books though.) That was another way I feel like God really blazed the way on this whole book thing for me. He worked it out for Todd and Debbie Wilson (big names in the homeschooling community) to publish the book. He wrote a FOREWORD for crying out loud. And then, I emailed the homeschool contributor on Pioneer Woman (Heather Sanders) and she said yes. How ridiculous is that? And Mary Ostyn of Owlhaven, and they actually only had 2 weeks to read the manuscript and write their endorsement. It was insane, and God figured every bit out.
And honestly, Todd Wilson has a HUGE platform as a keynote speaker at homeschool conventions. So any of his marketing or talks in front of thousands of homeschoolers was the best visibility it could have. He and Debbie travel around to conventions and sell the book along with theirs, so that sells more copies than anything I could do anyway.
5. How have you seen yourself change as a result of this project?
Good question. It was a great exercise in faith because I was in WAY over my head. I was reading in Psalms at the time and I love Ps 44:3 about how the Israelites didn’t gain possession of the land by their OWN sword, but it was God’s right hand, and His arm. I had to let go of all my plans a bit and trust that He had a plan with this. I was learning how to write a novel in the middle of it. I had a lot to learn.
It was also a lesson in humility, because I put all my most embarrassing moments together in one place and even made a few worse than they really were! But I wanted readers to feel like they could relate, and also that they really didn’t have the messiest car in the world like they thought. Being a writer means being brutally honest. That can be hard. But it’s also freeing to just say, “I’m kind of a mess.” I find a lot of women who read the book really are refreshed by that kind of honesty. I had to be okay with the fact that not everyone was going to like the book (or me). That’s okay.
6. What do you want your readers to take away from this book?
Encouragement. Laughter. Realizing we’re all a mess and it’s okay to admit it. We don’t have to be perfect. I think we enjoy our kids, our homes, our lives a lot more when we are less afraid of what will happen if we’re not perfect. Homeschooling and mothering look different for everyone and that’s okay.
And to relax and try to enjoy this time with our kids. To enjoy those sweet moments of connection.
WHO WANTS A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK??? Just leave a comment below and Charity will randomly draw a winner on February 3, 2014. Thank you, Charity for your encouraging and fun book!