Seven Books on the New York Times Best Seller List: How It All Started By Joan Wester Anderson

I began freelance writing as a temporary measure, to help Husband support our five young children. I had noticed that whenever I wrote an irate Letter to the Editor at the Chicago Tribune, it was always published. (In those days, it took little to rev me to irate status.) I realized that if I added a few hundred words, and called it a “guest editorial,” there might be the possibility of a check arriving at some point.

And there was! Small sales in newspapers and diaper service magazines led to the discovery of Writer’s Market, larger publication sales and eventually thoughts of a book on family humor, since experts say “Write About What you Know.” (A lot of my laughter was inspired by my evening glass of wine but that’s another story). By now I’d found a writing pal, whose brood was even larger than mine; we assumed neither of us would ever have time to write a full book, but if we combined all those small reprints as our base, we could add material to round them out and co-author an essay collection. Not knowing anything about queries, we assembled the manuscript mostly over the phone, reading material to one another, and filling in literary “holes,” our conversations punctuated by background screams and crashes. Finally we flipped a coin to see who would get stuck typing the one-and-only draft (it took me 40 hours) and then sent two copies to two small Christian publishers who had run some of our articles. We were astonished when one of them actually phoned, and accepted LOVE, LOLLIPOPS AND LAUNDRY then and there. I believe our advance was $200 which, of course, we split.

Birthing a book instead of a baby was a novel experience; we learned more about the industry, and because we lived in Chicago, we had access to small radio stations which allowed us to come on as guests and kibbitz about family life with the listeners. Our book was a natural for both Valentine’s and Mother’s Days; at local signings we passed out chocolate hearts along with our autographs. Even the arrival of someone named Erma Bombeck—who immediately set the country on fire with her special brand of hilarity—didn’t dim the luster of our accomplishments. All this attention, and getting out of the house at the same time! Who could ask for more?

My partner purchased a new six-burner stove with her share of our royalties, then opted for a p.r. job where she would wear shoes and be paid regularly. But I had been bitten by the writing bug and went on to author 13 more books (the last seven, national best-sellers). Looking back, I believe both our happy careers resulted because we started small and builtóletters into essays, into a co-authored project, into a larger one, learning the trade, coping with rejection, eventually discovering that, along with ability, a writer should also be a self-starter, and able to cope with constant uncertainty… all valuable training for the writing and speaking I have done since.

Today so many beginners START with books, biting off huge commitments of time and effort, inevitably surrendering before they’ve truly tested their talents or know where they fit. I long to tell them that selling a filler to Life with Lettuce may lack glamour, but it’s still the best way I know to eventually Write That Book.

Due to the popularity of her angel books (WHERE ANGELS WALK was on the New York Times best-seller list for over a year), Joan now distributes angel stories from her website at:

Author and lecturer Joan Wester Anderson has published more than one thousand articles and short stories in a variety of publications, including Woman’s Day, Modern Bride, Virtue, Reader’s Digest, and the New York Times Syndicate.

Her 15 books include WHERE ANGELS WALK, TRUE STORIES OF HEAVENLY VISITORS, which was on the New York Times best-seller list for over a year, has sold almost two million copies and been translated into fourteen languages. Published in fall, 1994, were the sequel to ANGELS, titled WHERE MIRACLES HAPPEN, and for children, AN ANGEL TO WATCH OVER ME. Both books were written in response to suggestions from readers, and were followed in rapid succession by three more in this series. FOREVER YOUNG (Thomas More Publishers), the life story of actress Loretta Young, was published in November, 2000. The actress had read the angel series, and requested Anderson as her biographer. The two became close friends. Anderson’s most recent book, IN THE ARMS OF ANGELS (Loyola Press) covers angelic activity primarily during the past decade, including stories of hope from the 9/11 and Columbine School tragedies.

Anderson has appeared on national television programs including Good Morning America, Oprah, 20/20, NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw and Mother Angelica Live, and was featured in such documentaries as Angels–Beyond the Light (NBC), Angel Stories and Stories of Miracles (The Learning Channel), and many videos. She was a story consultant for the television series, IT’S A MIRACLE, lectures in cities across the country, and has been interviewed on hundreds of radio talk shows. She currently writes a bimonthly column for 27,000 subscribers to her angel website,

Anderson is a graduate of Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and a former adjunct professor at Harper Community College in Palatine, Illinois. She and her husband live in suburban Chicago, and have five grown children and two grandchildren.