Thoughts on Crafting the Unbreakable Writer

The path to publication can be a gauntlet beset with trials that test a writer's endurance. Many writers give up. Jan O'Hara, of the popular, award-winning site for writers Writer Unboxed, said:

These days, getting and staying published requires a larger skill set than understanding point of view, plot and character. Rather, most would say it requires grit, determination and tolerance for life in the public eye. When I look for models of writers who possess those traits, I think of Kim Michele Richardson, author of The Unbreakable Child. (Kim's had) one of the most arduous struggles to publication I've yet encountered.

Many know I've had a difficult childhood journey and that I didn't live any of those rah rah, delightfully dramatic and loving Brady Bunch moments that so many experienced while growing up. Instead, I spent almost a decade in a Roman Catholic orphanage in rural Kentucky, far from society and prying eyes. For decades, vulnerable children without families were brutally abused. That grim experience and my subsequent historic legal action against the nuns along with triumphs are the subjects of my memoir, The Unbreakable Child.

Few will know about my path to publication. By sharing my journey I hope to inspire other writers to stay the course.

For catharsis, I kept a journal throughout the proceedings of the historic lawsuit. Upon its conclusion, I handed my inept attempts at word-slinging to attorney William F. McMurry, the real-life protagonist in The Unbreakable Child, to demonstrate my gratitude for his hard work and to show him his own worth. While writing my journal, I considered how my words might be used to ensure the safety of vulnerable children. I wanted to impress upon people the importance of child protection, and I hoped to educate so that history would not repeat itself.

In 2007, after thousands and thousands of hours of research and many drafts, a literary agent offered me representation for The Unbreakable Child. A month later the book was put up for auction. I spent a chaotic week, surviving a tumult of emotions. But The Unbreakable Child, the first book of its kind, wasn't quite ready, nor was the mainstream publishing world ready for it. Many more drafts and hours of work followed. Then, my agent at the time placed The Unbreakable Child with what appeared to the publishing world to be a promising new publisher. I gained emotional rewards immediately by having my agent donate the proceeds of the sale to two advocate groups.

Upon its release, The Unbreakable Child earned a coveted starred review from the ALA Booklist. As a result, it gained a wide readership and great momentum. I worked 24/7 on promotions and was rewarded: after only one month, my book went into a second printing.

Then bad news struck.

I found out that my former publisher had taken on The Unbreakable Child while in the midst of financial difficulty. Though my book had done superbly over the three months it was out, the publisher and his group of private investors closed down, taking with them every cent of the large earnings due to me, which I'd earmarked to help others in need.

To complicate matters, I learned that my prospects of placing a pre-published book with another publisher were low and the prospects of placing a non-celeb memoir and a book about child abuse were even lower. The reasons for this are complex and multifarious.

I'm eternally grateful for the support extended to me by the publishing world, author advocates, and fellow writers. Kindhearted agents and editors cheered me on and let me know they were open to my questions and concerns. And two large distributors offered to help me move my book back into the world and into libraries. I had reservations, however, about being my own publisher and navigating the intricate business end of publishing.

"Wild Injun, they called me. I took no offense, if the nuns thought me one, I'd act as one. I could outlast them because time was on my side. They knew it and I knew it. And I knew that I'd never be completely broken." --The Unbreakable Child

Although abandoned, The Unbreakable Child continued to gain speed. It had worked its way into high schools, universities, and the hands of social workers and medical professionals. Father Thomas Doyle, JCD, CADC, a Canon lawyer who was previously on the payroll of the Vatican Embassy in Washington, DC, said, "The Unbreakable Child is on the cutting edge for speaking out on what has become a humanitarian crisis with Catholic Clergy and orphan abuse."

I felt that it was essential to stay on the traditional publishing route by gaining reputable literary representation for the protection of my work and my literary career. With time on my side, I used it to my advantage to further hone my writing craft and to learn. The Unbreakable Child underwent further revisions, and thousands of hours later I landed an amazing, warm, and wonderful literary agent, Stephany Evans, who is passionate about my work. She placed my book with Behler Publications, an honest, mainstream publisher, where it has found its "forever home."

At the end of the road there was a vibrant rainbow's arch which seemed to pulse like time ticking, then stretch -- stretch across and disappear at the entry. Then the sun's rays peeked out showing changes to come. One day I'm going to be the rainbow at the end of that road and I will stretch across, disappear, and I will be in charge of my changes. -- The Unbreakable Child

Not unlike many writers on the same path to publication, I, too, have given up at various forks, watched as rainbows stretched, then disappeared across inviting portals and feared for and doubted my success. Yet, as I stumbled along the way, much like in my childhood, I realized that my fear was influencing the awareness of my present actions. Fear reroutes your hub, and wires the mind for failure. And that knowledge is just as easily gained in doing and stumbling, as it is in quitting and restarting. By focusing on the challenges presented to me at each fork, taking charge and using these obstacles as opportunities to grow, I discovered triumph.