I often encourage clients and readers to repurpose their work. One piece of work can become many things before ultimately becoming a book. Today, instead of a guest post, I have an interview with Mary C. Earle, author of Days of Grace: Meditation and Practices for Living With Illness, who explains the interesting and varied path her work took prior to becoming a book. By reading her story you will realize that anything can become a book—a group of prayers, a selection of quotations, your best essays on a topic, a bunch of meditations, even an audio program…
And, hopefully, you realize that importance of jumping at every opportunity presented to you. You never know where it might lead. The path to publication is different for everyone and can begin anywhere–with an essay, a blog post, or an audio recording.
1. How did the meditations that became a book find a home online?
Days of Grace: Meditations and Practices for Living with Illness, began as a series of meditations written for www.explorefaith.org, a website devoted to seekers, people who are asking questions about meaning and faith. I had written short pieces for the site for several years, and had, from time to time, participated in brainstorming about content with the editorial staff. In a phone conversation in 2007, Palmer Jones, then the editor of the site, asked me if I’d be willing to write meditations for people who live with illness. She knew that I’d written a couple of books on this subject, books that were written out of my own experience of living with a chronic condition.
For some reason, as soon as I said “yes” to the invitation, I seized up with writer’s block. Several months later in 2008, after a brief hospitalization for a procedure, I was able to start writing the meditations for the website. They are still online, arranged in groups of ten on a thirty day rotation. The original intent was to offer the meditations, one per day, for a month. They attracted readers from the start, and also led to some email correspondence with my readers. Once the meditations were published, they stayed online, readily accessed by a search on the site.
2. What kind of reception did the meditations receive once they were posted?
One day I mentioned to Ms. Jones that I’d had requests for an audio version of the meditations; the visually impaired needed to have audio access. Additionally, others wanted something they could listen to quietly, rather than read. They had suggested that an audio format would be helpful.
Elizabeth Cauthorn of Material Media and Charles Garrett of Stillpoint Studios in San Antonio arranged for me to record the meditations. Ben King supplied guitar music for this format, drawing from a tradition known as “laying on of song,” a way of “singing” someone who is ill into a place of healing. These MP3 files offered the listener an audio version of the meditations, complemented by guitar music.
The meditations have now been on the site for approximately four years. Explorefaith.org offers a visitor to the site the option of reading the meditations, or listening to them through MP files. In this way, a person living with chronic, progressive or terminal illness may encounter the meditations at a gentle pace, either by listening or by reading. I hear not only from those living with illness, but also nurses, hospice workers, physicians and patient’s families. While there has been some slowing in email correspondence over time, the online meditations still generate messages and feedback.
3. How did the meditations come to be in an audio format?
Once the MP3 files were ready, Elizabeth Cauthorn felt it would be helpful to create audio CDs of the recordings. So, the meditations made the jump from online material to CDs, available from Amazon, Material Media (www.materialmedia.net), and other outlets.
4. How did the online material become a book?
Over time, I began to receive requests that the meditations become a little book. Having spent a lot of time in physicians’ waiting rooms myself, I could imagine a small paperback, the kind of book that would easily fit in a pocket or a purse. I also imagined a lot of white space around the text, a visual cue for resting the eye and the spirit.
Having published several books with Morehouse, in late 2008 I approached the then-editor, Nancy Fitzgerald, about the possibility of converting the meditations into a book. Because Morehouse had published the two books I’d written on living with illness (Broken Body, Healing Spirit and Beginning Again), the editorial board felt that Days of Grace: Meditation and Practices for Living With Illness would be a good fit. This transition went very smoothly, in part because I knew the editorial staff, and in part because Nancy Fitzgerald championed the project. She immediately saw the book’s possibilities as an aid to reflection and meditation in waiting rooms, treatment settings, and other medical contexts.
5. How did the transformation from online meditations to book take place? What kinds of changes in the material were needed?
The staff at Morehouse requested very few editorial changes. The heart of the book is the meditations that were written for explorefaith.org. I did create an introduction and an afterword for the book version, and Phyllis Tickle graciously agreed to write a foreword. A fairly large font and a liberal use of margins gives the book a restful feel.
6. How has the ongoing life of the material been received in its various formats?
I have been intrigued by the fact that the material took on a nuanced difference in each of its different formats—online, audio and book. My sister, a nurse, prefers the CD format because she has a good auditory memory. Others have told me that they’ve been grateful for the accessibility of the online versions. Still others have said that the book has traveled with them into many difficult settings.
At present, every format continues in circulation: online, MP3 files, audio CD and book. I have just published a new book, Marvelously Made: Gratefulness and the Body, and its visibility is bringing new attention to Days of Grace in its various forms.
7. When you look back on the evolution of this project, what would you recommend to others who hope to transform online material into print media?
As someone who is not a blogger, but who writes occasionally for websites, I was surprised as this project evolved over time. Little did I imagine, in the original conversation with Palmer Jones, that the material would move from the online meditations to MP3 files to CD to book. The process was aided by the fact that I had established relationships with the staff at explorefaith.org and at Morehouse. Both staffs knew my work, and we have a high degree of trust.
I do have a website and a Facebook page, and am contacted by readers through those venues. Some attention has come to this project in professional nursing circles, due to my own networks.
At this point, explorefaith.org has a large volume of material that is recycled to the front page from time to time. The meditations are featured about two or three times a year. When the link to them appears on the site’s front page, all formats will experience a flurry of attention. So, a reader may be led to the online version, or vice versa. A person who receives the CDs may decide to buy the book. The several expressions of the material seem to bolster each one’s circulation.
About the Author
Mary C. Earle is an Episcopal priest, writer, retreat leader and spiritual director, who taught classes in spirituality for the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest until her retirement. Her home parish is St. Mark’s in San Antonio. Her recent book, Celtic Christian Spirituality: Essential Writings–Annotated & Explained (SkyLight Paths) was released in June, 2011. Her newest work, titled Marvelously Made: Gratefulness and the Body was released in May 2012. Mary has also written about the desert mothers, the Benedictine Rule and living with illness, and about the Celtic saints. She and her husband Doug, also an Episcopal priest, live with three border collies, two cats and a lot of gardens. Their son Jason is a professor of French at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Her website is www.marycearle.org.
Photo courtesy of pakorn