Choosing Your Own Path as a Writer, My Interview with Jennifer Louden

Bestselling author Jennifer Louden is about to upend your idea of what success as a writer looks like. She’s been a bestseller, she’s been on Oprah, and she’s been a successful author for more than 25 years.

But the wisdom she picked up along the way will surprise you. We dig into topics of book marketing, navigating your writing career, the creative process and so much more.

Some highlights of our conversation:

  • How she created word-of-mouth marketing for her first book, which sold 50,000 copies in the first year: “I planned my own book tour, I planned my own workshop tour, and I went on the road for 3-months in my parents’ Ford Taurus station wagon.”
  • One of her books landed her on Oprah’s show. But she says: “It wasn’t the experience I always hoped it would be. I hoped she would say “You are the best thing since sliced bread, you are amazing!” And when she didn’t say that to me, I really went through a long dark period. What was hard for me about the Oprah experience is that I thought that would finally make me feel legitimate. That I was going to be anointed in some way.”
  • How did she get on Oprah’s show? She says, “I had had friends who became household names from going on Oprah. I had people email Oprah, we pitched it.” But that’s not how she got on. She asked a staff member of the show said, who said, “Oh, I picked your book out of the slush pile.”
  • Her first book remains her biggest seller. She said “That has been really painful at times. To feel like you can never outdo that success.”
  • How she got a book deal? Publishers loved the title, but not the draft of the book. In Jen’s own summation, she called the draft “boring and pretentious. But two of the people wrote back and suggested how to write it differently. She went back and found her very first notes when the idea for the book came to her, and she developed it in that original voice. Something that can from within her, not trying to make the book sound like someone else. She described it this way: “There is an original spark that is ours, it’s easy to lose sight of that when you begin reading what experts tell you to do. What is the spark that lights you up.”
  • Before she found success as an author, she explains how she was a “failed screenwriter” first.
  • After 25+ years as a successful author, she said her most recent book took years to write, and went through several iterations that completely failed. Her conclusion: “This is the process of being creative.”
  • She was really open about discussing finding the inner strength to choose her own path, and turn away from everything she was told she “should be.”
  • I asked her what it was like when she first realized that her writing was actually helping people, she said, “In all the years of doing this, all the books, all the courses, all the retreats, I didn’t let myself feel that. That’s only happened in the last 7 or 8 years, where I really claimed the role of teacher and helper. I think I’ve had a fear that I’m a better teacher than writer, so embracing my teaching self was really scary to me. We have these complicated senses of our identity. Sometimes we have to let go of our identity, even a successful one.”
  • When I asked about when she started her business, she said it did’t come until much later: “For so long, I lived in the story of “Someone has to choose me.” Now she says she never ever wants to wait for someone to choose her again. “I’m going to be the most profitable that I’ve ever been this year.”
  • I love the story of what her dad said when she got her first job out of college. Her dad as a driven entrepreneur. Jen to her dad:”Dad, I got a job!” Her dad’s reply: “Why did you do that, I thought you wanted to be a writer.”
  • Even with all of her success, she feel she could have chosen a path for her books that was more authentic to who she was, “I made my living for 15 years, mainly from my writing, and some speaking. So that’s amazing. But I wish I would have looked at it differently with follow-up books.”
  • I love her advice for how to find success with your creative work: “We don’t know what works, but I do know what doesn’t work: staying alone in your office.”

You can listen to our entire conversation in my podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

You can find Jennifer in the following places:
Twitter: @jenlouden
Instagram @jenlouden