Debut non-fiction author Oana Velcu-Laitinen has had an up-and-down journey to publication. Now, having successfully launched her first non-fiction book, “How to Develop Your Creative Identity at Work”, with Apress (an imprint of Springer Nature), she’s learned a lot on the way.
We spoke to Oana about using our editorial services, the surprising parts of being a non-fiction author, and the importance of finding a writing community.
JW: Tell us a bit about you and your writing. Is this your first book? When did you start writing, and why?
Ever since childhood, as a hobby, I’ve experimented with literary genres like poetry, short stories, novels and play scripts. In my professional life, in my late 20’s, I earned my PhD in Economics.
Writing a book on creativity was not an aspiration for me ten years ago. Back then, I didn’t know that ‘the psychology of creativity’ existed as a domain of knowledge. Fortunately, in a moment of serendipity, I came across a blog article on the habits of highly creative people, which radically changed my professional life.
The more I delved into research on creative thinking and creative beliefs, the more I got interested in writing about the versatility of creativity – a concept we all think we know. I couldn’t get the desire to write a book on the diversity of creative personalities out of my mind.
My book, “How to Develop the Creative Identity at Work”, was published by Apress in October 2022. I like to think of it like a manifesto that reminds us to enact in our professional roles the multidimensionality of creativity: the out-of-the-box thinking, the resourcefulness, the creative skills and the drive for competence.
Now after trying my hand at non-factual writing genres as a hobby, a doctoral thesis and a non-fiction book, I understand that writing is my medium of creative self-expression.
JW: What were the challenges you faced when finding a publisher?
In 2019 I started writing the first draft of the book. I knew nothing about the publishing industry, but I did have experience in writing and publishing academic papers. I learned that the quality of your ideas and the brand awareness of your university were both opening the doors to having your papers considered by academic journals.
Fortunately, in a moment of serendipity, I came across a blog article on the habits of highly creative people, which radically changed my professional life.
In June 2021, when I started pitching my non-fiction book to publishers, I realized I faced three challenges, at least:
- I had a book on a niche topic that was not in the field of expertise of the editors I was pitching the book to.
- I was a first-time author.
- I have been working as a knowledge solopreneur for 6 years. My clients know the value I provide – but my name meant nothing to the editors I was reaching out to.
Yet, I was driven by my vision to write a book that brought a refreshing perspective on creativity. I hoped to contribute to the field but skip the academic filter, carrying the message directly to the general public.
At the end of September 2021, chance showed kindness to me when an editor from a traditional publishing company in London replied with interest in my submission. We exchanged a couple of emails that kept me awake at night and led to no deal.
JW: What kinds of resources did you find useful along the way?
Like a person who burns their feet walking on hot sand, I had burnt my aspirations stepping into the publishers’ territory. I started looking online for a writers’ community that would tell me that everything would be sorted out one way or another. And that’s when Jericho Writers came into my life.
I hoped to contribute to the field but skip the academic filter, carrying the message directly to the general public.
It didn’t matter that Jericho addressed fiction authors mostly. Reading the free newsletters reminded me that I am not the only person in the world with a book to publish.
After joining Jericho, I decided to change my strategy and reach out to literary agents. Throughout November 2021, I kept receiving replies like, “Thank you for your submission. We considered your work, and unfortunately, we feel it isn’t a fit for us.” I started to look at the bright side: “Well, at least they replied politely.”.
I then opted for the Jericho Writers mentoring service and agent one-to-ones. All the while, I was looking forward to Harry’s next email. In one of the December 2021 newsletters, he asked the question, “Do you love your writing?”
That question gave me energy. In January 2022, I bought the Agent Submission Pack Review. Paul Roberts, the editor who reviewed my application, helped me revise the query letter and inspired me to rewrite the book’s introduction.
Overall, meeting Paul was like breathing fresh air after weeks of illness. He also confirmed my guess that for a non-fiction book, it’s best to pitch the book directly to the publishing houses.
With renewed strength, I got back to reaching out to traditional publishers. In March 2022, the editor of a publishing house in the US showed interest only to decide after two weeks that it wasn’t a fit after all. Then, with the last drops of hope, I sent my application to Apress, an imprint of Springer Nature. The submission must have been sent under a lucky star, as at the beginning of April 2022, I signed a contract with them.
Meeting [my editor] was like breathing fresh air after weeks of illness.
JW: Were there any surprises?
After the introduction talk with the acquisition editor at Apress, she asked me to provide the name of an expert in the psychology of creativity – a professor who would be the technical reviewer for the book.
I knew many names of prolific researchers in the field but have never been in contact with any of them. In my panic, I remembered a paper that I liked so much that I’d heard myself saying, “One day, I’d like to work with this author.”.
Thanks to Apress, that day had come. I emailed professor Vlad Glaveanu the introduction of my final manuscript. He replied within a few hours with an enthusiastic “yes”, agreeing to be part of the editorial team.
Publishing a non-fiction book on a niche topic as a first-time author is a test of how much you love your writing and how much you believe in your idea. And to pass the test and keep your sanity, it helps to have a community that lifts you up and the luck to find an editor who is giving a chance to books they haven’t considered before.
Publishing a non-fiction book on a niche topic as a first-time author is a test of how much you love your writing and how much you believe in your idea.
JW: Do you have any advice for writers looking for a home for their non-fiction book right now?
I would avoid setting a timetable for getting the book published. It took several months to find my publisher, and in many cases it can take a lot longer. Instead, focus on reaching out to one publisher at a time and working with yourself to stay hopeful.
So, how do you stay inspired during this time?
Firstly, I believe that the professional network is a safe haven. Who are the people in your network who have published books? Reach out to them, and ask them about their success and failures. What did they do right so that you can adapt to your circumstances?
Second, online writers’ communities can provide refuge and fuel hope. There are many communities out there – you’ll just have to find the one that suits you. For instance, the thing I liked most about Jericho Writers was the underlying feeling of authenticity and talent for writing, above all else.
Online writers’ communities can provide refuge and fuel hope.
Third, remember that there is a time and place for everything. A time to lose hope. A time to gain it back. A time for dead ends. A time for victory. As long as you keep a flexible mind and try out new strategies, you will be closer to your goal. And there can be situations when changing the goal enables the successful publication of your book.
Fourth and last, do not shy away from taking a break and allowing yourself a boost of positivity with someone you love or doing something else that you love. Writing means a lot for authors, but if we let it take over everything else, writing becomes an obsession. And we want to keep it as a passion that makes us into the best versions of ourselves.
Oana Velcu-Laitinen is a NeuroLeadership coach and trainer with focus on creative thinking to enhance work performance. So far, she has worked with researchers, change leaders, entrepreneurs, and individuals seeking career growth.
Oana holds a PhD in Economics from Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, Finland. Her motto is, “To know job satisfaction, know your creativity.”
Find out more about Oana’s book here. She also offers NueroLeadership coaching here.
Follow her on LinkedIn, and listen to her on Teach the Geek Podcast, IDEAS+LEADERS, & CloudReachers.