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 built