I WANT TO stay local again this week and introduce to you a member of one of my writers’ groups. Bill Sheridan grew up in the little northeast town of Lawler, Iowa in the 1950s and went on to become an English and speech instructor at St. Edmond High in Fort Dodge. There he began to submit freelance articles to various newspapers and magazines and was often featured in the Des Moines Register and Fort Dodge Messenger, and even authored an article in the Writer’s Digest about how to freelance.
Upon his retirement as a trainer at two different Des Moines-based life insurance companies two years ago, he formed a company (Sheridan Writes, LLC) in which he helps folks from all over the country write books, articles, web page material, brochures, and speeches. “I find that there are people who have terrific stories to tell, but not necessarily the writing skills to make their work reader friendly,” he says.
Mike: Welcome, Bill, and thank you for taking part in my weekly blog. I think your latest book is "Depot Street Memories--The Lawler Stories." Can you give us a short synopsis of it?
Bill: The book is kind of a memoir of my growing up in Lawler. Approximately 20% of the chapters (almost considered essays) are pieces that have been published through the years. I write about the good and funny times and the sad times. My father took his own life when I was seven, leaving my 43-year-old mother with six kids, a failing meat locker business, and no life insurance. That was, obviously, a big deal in our lives and my siblings appreciated me going public with some of our struggles. Mostly, however, the stories and short and (am happy to report from various readers) fun and funny...like the time I set the only basketball record that’s still in effect after 50 years at Turkey Valley High School: getting four fouls in under a minute. As I say in the foreword, “The book does not really have a beginning or an end. At some point I will quit writing. That will be your cue to quit reading.”
M: You seem to have an eclectic body of work, so what started you writing?
B: My biggest influence was my high school English teacher, Josine McGreevey, who recognized my gift and encouraged me through the years. Even though she passed away 20 years ago, still hear her voice when I’m writing. Thanks to Mrs. Mac, I began in high school at age 17 and have not had the good sense to quit even now at age 67!
M: Your business, Sheridan Writes, LLC, is intriguing, how do you work with writers needing help … what services do you offer?
B: I give a free one-hour, no obligation consultation in which we discuss the potential client’s needs and wishes. Sometimes I offer to look at a small portion of their work so that I can make a judgment on the person’s writing skills. More than once I’ve been able to tell the writer that his/her skills are excellent and they don’t need me unless they want some editing or fine tuning. Thanks to the internet, Skype, and cell phones...I can work with anyone in the country. Occasionally, I have to do a completely rewrite of the work, but mostly it’s a matter of slicing and dicing. As you know, Mike, one of the biggest sins first-time authors commit is using 12 words when seven would do quite nicely. I have also ‘ghost written’ entire articles and my name seldom, if ever, shows up on the final product. I work either by the hour or by the job. It can be a challenge to figure out how much time a particular project will take, so at times I will put a ‘cap’ on what it will cost for me to ply my trade. Then I do my best to come under that target, but do not charge client if it does take me longer that projected.
M: Where do your clients come from?
B: In the two years since starting my company, virtually every client came as a referral. Many of them turn into repeat customers. In the corporate world I helped put on meetings with 500-1,000 people in attendance. We used a local meeting planner to help hire main platform speakers. She and I became great friends and she gave me a great idea several months before my retirement, “Why don’t you help speakers write books? Many of them are terrific on stage but don’t have the ability to express themselves well on paper. You could help them write books that they could sell after their speaking gig.” When I told her that it was a great idea, she lined me up with my first client and that mushroomed into many others. I’m having way too much fun for an old guy in my encore career.
M: What are your personal writing habits? In other words, do you write each day, morning, evening, etc.?
B: For a long time I made sure that I was writing in my home office every day. I’m a morning person, so that’s when creativity is at it’s peak for me. I understand that many of your readers are still in the 9-5 thing, so don’t have that luxury. My recommendation, however, is to somehow make it a habit to write frequently...if not daily. My writing schedule depends on two factors professionally: 1.) If I am working with a client, my personal writing comes in second. He/she is paying me and deserves my full attention; 2.) Since self-publishing ‘Depot Street Memories--The Lawler Stories,’ I have been doing a lot of speaking/reading gigs at service clubs, retirement centers, schools, and libraries.
M: Tell me about your speaking gigs, and do they sell many books?
B: In general, I try to keep them within a 20 miles radius of the Des Moines area. My biggest crowds, however, were in the NE Iowa area where it was not unusual to have 50-60 folks in attendance. Those were always good signing/selling experiences. On the other hand, I had one at the Ankeny library and told my wife later, “They had police there for crowd control, but neither one of the women bothered me!” The good news is that they both purchased a book, so I am able to frame it in such a way that, “Everyone in attendance bought a book that night in Ankeny.” I someone forget to mention the size of the crowd. Average attendance runs from 10-12 people.
M: Do you have anything upcoming? Books, magazine articles, etc.
B: I continue to submit articles to the Register (most recently published was one about the passing of my childhood hero, Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers). The New Hampton Tribune is in the county seat town eight miles from Lawler and the editor and I have become good friends. He publishes most everything that I submit. I don’t charge him because I’m so grateful for the exposure they gave me (front page article with pix) when my book came out in February 2010. Also, every time I have a piece in there, someone buys a book from a gift shop in the area. I had one recently talking about how retirement doesn’t have to be boring if you plan for it, and another on how I would solve all of my pet peeves if the world made me king for a day. If I write another book, it will most likely be on Kindle or Nook as an e-book. No fuss, no, no mess, no cost.
M: Do you have any hobbies, etc. for your spare time?
B: I pretend to be a golfer, but could never be convicted in court of being one based on my scores. Those scores are like my weight, much higher than I would like them to be!
M: Since you are a “writing coach,” what advice would you give up and coming authors?
B: I can’t say enough about attending book clubs such as the one on the first Tuesday of the month at Beaverdale Bookstore. It’s a wonderful opportunity to mingle with other Iowa authors such as Jerry Hooten, Tony Powers, and Mike Manno. A wealth of information for zero cost. I also have signed up for a LinkedIn writing group.
My advice to authors: Contact libraries, service clubs, and retirement centers and offer to speak/read. Have a ‘hook.’ Mine is the importance of people preserving their own memories, even if only on a yellow pad, because when they are gone...so are their stories. I normally sell between zero-three books, but that it okay. You’ve given some joy for an hour. To me it’s almost a ministry.
M: Here is how you can contact Bill:
Website: www.sheridanwrites.com for printed copy (PayPal)
M: Bill, thank you for your time today.
B: You are welcome, it was my pleasure.