Back Story: Nita Whitaker LaFontaine’s Self-Publishing Success Story


Nita Whitaker photographed by Kevin McIntyre.

Even though I've written songs for a long time, I never thought I would be an author. But when my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer a few years ago, I started using writing to get through it all. It was then that the seeds of my story were planted.

Like Don, my husband, I've always had a strong voice. I've been a singer for most of my life; he was the famous voice behind the "in a world…" movie trailer catchphrase–as well as thousands more. But while he was in the hospital, it was hard for both of us to use our voices. Scratch that–it was hard for me to talk. He cracked jokes all throughout his chemo and radiation treatment! I, on the other hand, was just too overwhelmed most of the time. Not only was I hurting, but my hands were full trying to manage all that was going on with Don's care in the hospital.

Still, I wanted to keep our friends and family in the loop, so for nine days I wrote group emails asking for support and prayers–not knowing yet that those would be his last days.

After Don passed away, there was an enormous outpouring of support, with well over 1,000 people at his celebration service. In the weeks following, I wanted to stay connected to those who had helped me get through this, so I began to send email "check-ins" letting everyone know how we were doing. It was just too hard to repeat the same stories over and over about our family, because they made me cry. But this way, I could keep everyone up to speed.

Much to my surprise, several of those people in the email chain wrote back and told me, "You know, Nita? You should share these words with others!" I turned the idea over in my head a bit, but I wasn't thinking "author" at all. That is, until I met a very special woman: Jackie Parker.

I met Jackie a year after Don's passing, and got to know her through writing workshops she held in her home. They were very unique–very spiritual–and for me, offered a creative outlet. She usually started each session with a five minute silent breathing exercise, followed by free writing and then a sharing session, where we each discussed what we had written. Then she would give us all a prompt, which usually began with, "Tell me the story of…"

It was totally exploratory and supportive, and it was so fascinating for me to hear all of these people's journeys, as well as my own out loud. I was still so wounded and grieving that I didn't think much about what I was writing; I just knew that each week, I couldn't wait for the next class. It felt so freeing to write stories from my childhood, lessons I'd learned going through life and all kinds of things I'd never written about before.

Then, one day–New Year's Day, 2010–I had a little epiphany while sweeping the floor.

"Skye!" I called my daughter. "What do you think of this?"

I read her a little passage of something I had written. It was about sweeping–sweeping on a deeper, soulful level–and she (lovingly) told me I was weird, since I'm always thinking in songs and metaphors. But, she also thought it was good.

Sweeping has always been therapeutic for me, you see, and I got the idea to share this story around this idea of cleaning out your life. So I sent it to my "prayer village" as I like to call them–the folks on my old email chain–and also sent it out to six publications. Inspirational Woman Magazine got back to me right away, and said they'd love to publish it.

That was a nice shot in the arm for me as a writer, but I still hadn't thought about authoring a book. I was just sharing an epiphany, which does not a book make.

Soon after that, though, I had another article published–one I submitted after lots of encouragement and shouted accolades from my email group–and I began to get the idea that there was a book brewing inside me. But I knew I needed some help, so I approached Jackie. The moment I told her that I actually wanted to write a book–a real, many-chapters book!–she said she had been waiting for me to say that for a long time. She helped me prepare a book proposal to send out to agents, and between April and August of that year, we finished the whole thing.Whitaker Cover

Over the next year, I met with lots of agents, and even signed to one literary agency. But once I jump in a project, I jump IN, so rather than wait for my book to get signed, I went ahead and decided to just write. By summer of 2011, my entire book manuscript was done.

I couldn't believe I had finished the manuscript, and that it was almost a real book! Still though, I knew I needed an editor. I found and hired a woman named Jessica Swift, whose brilliant editing skills not only came highly recommended through another editor friend, but she happened to be going through a personal tragedy of her own. Reading my book, she said, wasn't just a work assignment–it was a salve for her own pain. 

We started formally editing the book in January 2012, and I was determined to have it finished by April. That just so happened to be the time I was taking a trip to China, so I literally finished editing my last pages on the Yangtze River. Jessica gave me phenomenal direction and help, and by late April, I was holding a book in my hands.

I self-published my book, and it ended up being wonderful, because I got to meet so many helpful people along the way. The cover is the exact shade of Don's eyes, and each chapter is named after a song title–so there's a lot of both of us in it. The finishing touch was a cover endorsement, so I asked a dear friend of mine–Michael Buble–if he would do me a favor. He wrote me some extremely kind words for the book, and for that I was so grateful.

Writing this book was a healing journey, one I am so glad to have taken, and I hope it can be a help to others who experience loss, too. It quite literally helped me find my voice.


Back Story: Best-seller Andrew E. Kaufman’s Path to Success
I’ve always been a writer. There aren’t many absolutes in my life, but this much I’ve always known. I’m pretty sure I was a writer before I ever knew what the word meant. I feel like it’s in my DNA. After graduating with a journalism degree, I worked as a television news writer and producer, first at the CBS affiliate ...
Back Story: How Ricardo Ainslie Penetrated the Vicious Drug War in Mexico
The first time I crossed the Puente Libre linking El Paso and Ciudad Juárez to begin working on what was to become The Fight to Save Juárez: Life in the Heart of Mexico’s Drug War was March of 2009. I remember feeling a wave of anxiety as I crested the bridge and the Mexican border city came into full view ...
Back Story: How Best-Seller Hugh Howey Made His Own Luck
I wonder if lottery winners get emails asking for advice on how to win the next one. Do people inquire after their recipes of divination? How many eyes of newt for every swamp bat? What about where they got their numbers? Birth dates or box scores? Every week, I get a handful of emails from aspiring authors asking for advice ...