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This month’s profile features Columbus native Gretchen Hirsch. Hirsch is a working writer and “chief surgeon” at Midwest Book Doctors, an editorial consulting service for those preparing manuscripts for submission to editors or agents or who wish to self-publish. She’s written nine books, two of them multiple award-winners and all but one nonfiction. She self-published a novel, Back Again to Me, and her latest book, Your Best Self-Published Book: How To Write It. How To Edit It.
By Jennifer Sadler
GCAC: Tell us a bit about yourself. Are you from Ohio? Where did you grow up?
GH: I’m a Buckeye through and through. My grandchildren are sixth-generation Columbusites. Both my family and my husband’s landed in Columbus about the same time. My family started out as brewers (yes, right there in the District) and my husband’s family produced the largest German-language newspaper east of the Mississippi (yes, in the Village). Although I love to visit other cities, I’m always happy to come home to Columbus. There’s always something interesting to do, see, or experience here.
GCAC: When did you start writing? Did you realize early on that you had a gift for it?
GH: My second-grade teacher, whose name was Martha Unkel (some people you never forget) happened to mention on my report card that she wished I would do some writing because I enjoyed reading so much. I loved her, so I started writing—a 14-chapter novel. I remember almost nothing about it, but as I wrote each chapter, she would let me read it to the class. If there’s anything more affirming than that I can’t imagine what it is. I didn’t write again for many years, except for high school and college papers. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.
GCAC: The path to becoming a writer is as unique as the person. What were some of the influences or choices that you made that had the most impact on your own path to becoming a professional writer?
GH: I didn’t start out to become a writer. I was teaching a class about association management process for the Junior League in the early ’80s. That was the time that women were beginning to flood into the workplace in huge numbers, and the thing they wanted to know about was how to manage the new roles they were taking on while sustaining the homemaking role, too. In short, time management. That began to fascinate me, so I studied and taught time management seminars. Several people asked if I had a book, and I didn’t, so I wrote one. Knowing nothing about publishing, I sent it to a high school friend who was the editorial director for one of the well-known publishers. She couldn’t use it, but she sent it to an agent, who got it placed with St. Martin’s Press. It was 10 years before I did another book, but since then I’ve written constantly.
GCAC: Who are some of your favorite authors?
- Richard North Patterson
- Anne Lamott
- Robert Olmstead
- Robert Flanagan
- J.D. Salinger
- Truman Capote
- The poetry of T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and David Citino
- Philippa Gregory for Tudor history
To relax, I like popular novels and biography.
GCAC: In 2009, you published a novel, Back Again to Me. What was the inspiration for this book?
GH: The book deals with how the decision to keep a child or surrender it for adoption affects not only the mom and adoptive parents, but also the entire family on both sides. It comes from many stories I heard over the years from women who had surrendered their babies, and I thought I’d write about that from the standpoint of the grandmother rather than the mother because there are a variety of narratives from mothers themselves. The book is full of twists, this point of view being the first one.
GCAC: You’ve written and co-written several non-fiction books, including your most recent, Your Best Self-Published Book. What was it like self-publishing a book about self-publishing? Did you learn anything new along the way?
GH: I felt that to maintain the integrity of the subject matter, I had to self-publish (or more precisely, have CreateSpace build me a print-on-demand project). Except for the last two books, all of my other work was traditionally published. I didn’t learn anything new this go-round, but the process reinforced how robust the Kindle world is and how much work a self-publishing author must do after the writing is finished. I enjoyed writing it because as “Chief Surgeon” at Midwest Book Doctors, I hear the same questions over and over. This book was a way to answer some of them. It’s a quick and easy read, practical, and, I hope, fun.
GCAC: If you could offer just one pearl of wisdom to an aspiring writer, what would it be?
GH: Don’t be in such a hurry to publish that you rush through the writing process. Because self-publishing is so easy, too many people think writing is easy, too, and they produce very bad books. I think self-publishing will gain respect when there is a critical mass of excellent, well-researched, carefully crafted works published by their authors. We’re not there yet. Lots of bad books on the Web—and some good ones, too.
GCAC: Do you have any projects or workshops coming up? Where can people go to learn more about your work?
GH: My website is almost constantly in flux, so the best way to find what I’m up to is on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/midwestbookdoctors. It, too, is behind because I’ve been so busy doing what I do that I haven’t had a lot of time to write about it. I’m developing a series of workshops for writers that I hope to make available free for people who are interested in writing. If you work for a library, come visit me on the Facebook page and we’ll chat because libraries, after all, are where we find readers and writers.
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