In this interview, Author and marriage therapist Keith Miller shares how he came to write Love Under Repair, including personal experiences that deeply motivated him, as well as how he made the decision to self-publish, advice on Kickstarter campaigns, his journey of how to write a book, how he made some courageous decisions about sharing his personal story and much more.
Charlotte: Why did you decide to write Love Under Repair? Did the decision come at a certain moment?
Keith: I’ve been an expert on the topic of marriage and couples therapy for more than ten years. I also run a very large private practice that gets about a hundred inquiries per month about counseling. When people call us and are looking for a counselor, most of them have no idea what to ask or what to expect. It’s a little scary. I’m constantly hearing, “We’ve worked with two other marriage therapists and it’s making our marriage worse, can you help us?” I wanted to make a consumer’s guide that contains everything a person needs when going through a tough situation in your relationship and you’ve reached the point of wanting professional help. It was when my own marriage of 15 years had a major crisis and I was in the same shoes of all of these people that call us for help, that’s what galvanized my determination to write Love Under Repair. I thought, “If this feels overwhelming for me and I’m a professional, how much worse is it for people without anything to guide their decision process for choosing a couples therapist?” I decided something had to change.
Charlotte: Did you have a clear outline of Love Under Repair before you began writing or did it take shape as you wrote? Did you know beforehand what each chapter would detail and how it would be ordered?
Keith: I’ve been writing lots and lots of “loose ends” on the topic of self-help for marriage for years before finally nailing down a clear outline. I wrote drafts of each chapter and, as I got feedback from a developmental editor (invaluable to me), it became clear that there was an arc to the book which needed me to fill in certain elements (like personal stories, vignettes and illustrations).
Charlotte: How did you determine what style to use? Did you experiment with certain styles before coming to a final style?
Keith: I wanted my book to be as natural and engaging as possible because I think this is what’s missing in the most popular books by experts on marriage. There seems to be a divide between people like Laurie Abrahams (author of The Husbands and Wives Club), who write in the journalistic style but shares personal details about herself and how she fits into the subject she’s writing about, and Gary Chapman (top twenty all-time Amazon bestselling author of The Five Love Languages), who writes authoritatively as a subject expert but sterilizes the narrative of himself.
Charlotte: How did you decide to include all the specific aspects in the book, such as the quizzes, questions to ask, further reading resources, etc? Why did you include these?
Keith: As much as I’d like to think readers are going to sit down and read my book as though it’s one long personal letter to them, that ain’t gonna happen. The quizzes and appendixes that contain a lot of reference info were the least interesting for me to write but probably the most valuable to the reader and gives my book an interactive backbone.
Charlotte: Did you have to do any additional research before writing this book or did it come mostly from knowledge you already had on the subject? What did the process of gathering information for the book look like?
Keith: About 1/5 of the book I could write from knowledge I already had on the subject. But I wanted to write a book that integrated several knowledge bases within my field that aren’t normally grouped together. I attended a conference on the West Coast that was kind of a one-of-a-kind opportunity to hear other professionals discuss the angle that I wanted to write about. But since the conference was for professionals I had to weave into this integration the element of making this a book for general public. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for my book) I had lots of experience going through the process of marriage counseling and this was also a huge resource on which I could draw information from.
Charlotte: Your use of vignettes with different characters to exemplify different kinds of therapies and processes is very interesting. How did you decide to utilize these in your writing? What effect do you think it has on the reader?
Keith: I wanted to write the way I like to speak in public which is to tell stories. When I’m hearing someone speak I get terribly annoyed when they become too technical. I want to hear them tell me a story. I think we all want to be engaged emotionally and stories have this amazing capacity to let us insert ourselves into the subject. If the writer/speaker just jams information into the presentation there’s no room to feel anything and our imagination gets the message that there’s no room so we just shut down—I shut down—as a listener. The latin word for emotion is literally to move. My book is about the revolution in psychology which centers on the very topic of using emotion in modern therapies only recently. Emotions move us to action. We’ve thought for centuries that it’s our intellect that moves us to action but our intellectual brain is hands down no comparison for the power of emotion to move us, spur us to change, and make us hold onto something. Without emotion there’s no memory and without memory there’s no meaning. Of course I had to deliver some technical information—for example I have a section that describes emotions and the mirror neurons responsible for how we see and feel ourselves as the center of all events around us, even if the action is really centered elsewhere. But it’s the stories and vignettes that actually demonstrate mirror neurons and emotions in action without using that language.
Charlotte: Throughout the book you describe not just your own personal experiences and stories, but those of your family. What effect do you think this level of honesty and openness has on the reader? How did you balance these personal aspects with the educational process aspects of your writing? What did this process look like while you were writing it?
Keith: I very nearly didn’t include so much personal detail about my own struggles. At one point a light bulb went off for me. I realized that the topic I was describing so well technically (the power of emotions to create and protect our attachment to others) was missing emotion! Here I had an opportunity to let the reader attach to me personally the way I was saying that couples can be led though attachment-based couples therapy to learn how to fix their broken bond. But to do this I really had to open up and not just offer a shiny, sanitized version of myself. I had to show the most vulnerable side of me. As a professional marriage therapist this was the equivalent of saying I’m a bankrupt accountant, a chain-smoking oncologist. It was like I was the cobbler without any shoes. My personal sharing also had to have limits. I wanted to let my reader know that, yes, I had some serious dirty laundry but I didn’t want to burden my reader with the task of actually carrying my dirty laundry. It was very humbling to write this and in the end demanded of me a full commitment of me to the book. Quite literally it became an important final phase of my own therapy–that still challenges me very much– kind of like the twelfth step in Alcoholics Anonymous which is to share your journey with others.
Charlotte: You started a kickstarter campaign for this book. Can you tell us what you learned from this experience? What are some of the benefits for a writer to embark on a kind of social media campaign like this?
Keith: Where do I start? I definitely drank the kickstarter cool-aid. Somehow I thought that by investing tons of time and effort into the publicity for my kickstarter (three months prior to book launch) that this would convert into a groundswell of publicity for my book release. In the end my KS project failed but succeeded at the same time. What I mean is since Kickstarter is all-or-nothing and I failed to get enough pledges to reach my funding goal, my project didn’t get funded through Kickstarter. But I did an end-run around their system and personally contacted all 112 of my financial backers and asked for them to send a donation directly to me. It worked.
The first mistake I made was setting my funding goal way too high. I set it for the actual publishing budget I had which was $25,000. This included publicity, which is a topic I’ll address separately. After the 30-day kickstarter campaign I had $10,000 in pledges. To be honest this was incredibly crushing and I was depressed. There was really no reason to be depressed about getting people to give you $10K to write a book! In hindsight I would have set my goal at $10K and felt elated at reaching it. I shook off the blow to my psyche and ended up getting $9K in donations from everyone privately. The little secret about Kickstarter is that, in my cases and I think in most cases, out of 112 backers maybe one or two were people were strangers. It was all friends, family, and colleagues.
I put everything I had into my Kickstarter campaign and researched other’s experiences. There were two guiding principles I followed from what I learned. First was that people rarely raised significant sums without an existing platform or lots of publicity. Second, you need a good video. I decided to tackle both head-on. Making my video was fun and personally rewarding and I feel like we nailed this one. It’s since been viewed more than thirty thousand times on Youtube but I wish it could’ve happened during the campaign! To generate national publicity I hired a major publicity house for authors that has a great reputation for promoting books. But despite having designed a great campaign and spent thousands on publicity, not a single backer of my campaign was a result the publicity.
Charlotte: Part of Love Under Repair details that you used the same process and therapies you discuss in the book for your own marriage. What led you to decide to share that in your book? Was it a hard decision? Do you think following the therapy process you provide other couples changed how you saw your writing or did your writing change how you saw your process?
Keith: Like I express in my KS video, I really think that when a person goes in to see a marriage therapist it’s like being examined by a urologist or GYN (pictures are worth a thousand words…and a youtube video of me actually dropping my pants in my doctor’s office is worth $10,000 apparently.) From this perspective, to share my personal story about going “under the knife” (book chapter) was a no-brainer. To me it’s kind of insane to trust someone with something so precious—your marriage and the future of your family and kids—to someone who doesn’t know firsthand what it feels like up there on the table under the glare of the examination lights.
Charlotte: Can you tell us about how you decided to self-publish Love Under Repair? What factors led you to self-publish?
Keith: I had the advice ringing in my head from a sage, highly successful, prolific self-help author that everyone would know who I happened to be on the same talk-show with in Washington one day. I told her I was going to write a book someday and did she have any advice? Without missing a beat she said if she could do it all over again she’d self-publish from day one.
I also can’t leave out the local factor. My book is incredibly niche and focused on a sliver of a topic that no one else has yet written about the way I have. Because my book’s topic is also the bread and butter of my brick and mortar business, I planned to used my book to create an enduring reputation of authority in our local healthcare industry. My goal isn’t to make profit from volume of sales from the book but from driving conversions to our local business.
Charlotte: What do you think worked well with this method of publishing as opposed to other methods? What do you think didn’t work as well?
Keith: I loved that I was my own boss in creating my own publishing company, Love Good Press. But this is also because I’m my own boss in real life and am constantly starting new projects and overseeing them to completion. I knew I could juggle lots of balls. At Harvard Medical School’s publishing course, I had learned how the machine of traditional publishing works—how much work goes into publishing a high quality book. Without that, I would have underestimated how much work I needed to do to really get my book done right. But I didn’t cut corners. If anything I may have spent more money on editing, design, and publicity than many regular publishers would have. I know some of this was anxiety-driven overspending on my part, but I’m nonetheless very proud that I can say my book offers the same quality as a book from a major house.
What didn’t work well? Anxiety-driven overspending.
Charlotte: Did you encounter any roadblocks during the writing and publishing processes? How did you overcome these? What advice do you have for readers encountering similar roadblocks?
Keith: Overspending initially triggered kind a nightmare of self-doubt that, if I let it, I’d still be living in. I ended up paying for 50% of my $25,000 total expense though a business loan. There were many days I wanted to cry about this and some days I actually did. The plan was for Kickstarter to bail me out of this loan in three months. When the KS failed I had to seriously push aside the voice inside of me that feared being an annoying salesman and pissing off good friends, colleagues and family with my constant FB posts, emails, and phone calls. This was my favorite line (kidding), “Trust me, Kickstarter won’t be charging your credit card $250 for your pledge since my campaign failed….so could you send me a check instead?” I must have sounded like a perfect scam artist. But in the end so many people surprised me with their encouragement and generosity (I sent out cool thank you gifts to all supporters…my book, a shirt and coffee mug).
I also knew that this expense is absolutely an investment in my business. If I was writing a memoir this might be harder to say, but non-fiction that’s written to augment your existing business is like a million-dollar calling card, in my opinion. So whatever you do, keep your business hat on and don’t forget you’re writing is just another arm of your marketing department.
Charlotte: What are some of the positive results or responses you have received since publishing the book? Has writing this book given you a particular insight into your own relationships or the therapy process you provide other couples that you didn’t have prior to writing it?
Keith: I’ve been incredibly humbled by the responses of other therapists who know my subject very well and observed that Love Under Repair is truly a contribution to our field because of the unique angle it takes and how it unifies and simplifies the unwieldy language of psychological treatment for couples, for the benefit of therapists in training and the general public. Another positive result is the relationships I’ve built with other highly regarded authors and leaders in my field. I’m excited by the partnerships I’m already developing through those connections that are challenging me to write more and present my ideas in more diverse outreach channels.
Charlotte: How can our readers reach you?
Readers are invited to share questions about self-publishing, kickstarter or book writing or to share their experiences as a comment below.
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