Podcast #211 – Marc Plays the Original Interview and then Interviews Russ Eanes Again to See How He Has Weathered the Pandemic
Russ Eanes enjoyed a long career as a publishing executive for the Mennonite church in the U.S. and Canada.
With the disruption of the publishing industry and the decline in church membership and attendance, Russ found himself downsizing staff and merging locations until he was exhausted by it, so he downsized himself and took a sabbatical, including a walk on the Camino de Santiago. On that sabbatical, he found a new purpose.
He is now publishing the story of his walk and starting a journey of teaching other walkers how to self-publish books chronicling their experiences. The original interview was published in August of 2019 and Marc interviewed Russ again in January of 2021.
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Russ worked in ministry for several years in the Mennonite Church. He also has worked many years in publishing, which is his “real love” and has been a University administrator. He has explored several career paths but is most interested in publishing, writing, editing, and anything literary.
Most recently, Russ was at the top of his career, Executive Director for MennoMedia, the publisher for the Mennonite Church in the U.S. and Canada. They publish books, curriculum, music, and magazines. It required a lot of work and contact with the constituents, managing a sizeable staff at multiple locations in both countries.
The publishing business and churches today are going through tremendous changes. Churches are decreasing in number and the publishing industry has been disrupted over the last few decades. A church publisher is at the nexus of that decline, and after 11 years of downsizing, Russ was worn out and downsized himself, at age 60.
Russ needed a sabbatical and his wife suggested he take a year off and live on savings before getting back to work. Russ visited his son in South America, then biked across the UK. He fulfilled a long-held dream of walking the Camino de Santiago across Spain. He used that walking time to set a new pattern and pace for his life.
Russ completed the walk in May of 2018 and then went home. He had an idea to start a business to help people self-publish. However, he felt that he no longer fit into the fast pace of American culture so he decided to write a book about his experiences walking on the Camino.
During his walk on the Camino, his love of writing was re-awakened. He wrote letters home, emails, and social media posts. When he started his book, the writing poured out of him; it wasn’t like work. He had never wanted to write a book but now it came naturally. He worked with an editor and developed a style of writing by narration.
He chronicled the journey of 500 miles over six weeks, telling of his experiences at different stages of the journey.
For over 20 years, Russ had kept meeting people who had walked the Camino, and that created in him a desire to walk it, also. On the Camino, the unexpected happens, all the time. There are no schedules and no lists. You just take your bag and guidebook and walk about twenty-five kilometers a day. Russ only kept track of the day his wife was going to meet him — Friday, April 27.
Russ notes that everything you need is in a 16-pound pack on your back. Russ missed his family on his trip, but the only material possessions he missed were books. Whenever Russ would stop and spend the night, if he found a book in English, he would devour it. He carried only a guidebook and a book on the history and culture of the towns on the Camino.
After Russ started the book, with an editor, he was surprised by the amount of rewriting he needed to do. He ended up working with two editors. They kept pointing out patterns in his writing. After nine months of writing, by the time Russ started the last chapter, he had weeded out most of his bad writing habits.
Russ found that writing is tough mental work, and it exhausted him to write day after day, after day. Marc worked with Susan Lahey, who also worked with Russ. Marc says, “It doesn’t make any difference what you think — it’s what your readers think.” You have to get outside of your own head. A good editor will point out inconsistencies, redundancies, and problems that you don’t notice.
Russ is publishing the book himself under the imprint he created, the Walker Press. He hopes to do more books and also help others through the process of self-publishing books about walking. Russ will publish the book on Labor Day. He is opening it on Amazon and IngramSpark, the main self-publishing channels in the U.S.
Russ is working on promotional ideas, advertising, and a few events. Russ loves talking about his walk on the Camino. He took about 3,000 pictures, so he shows pictures when he makes a presentation.
Russ has started working with the first few clients for self-publishing and hopes to find his capacity of how many people he can work with at a time.
He has learned that he has a lot of fun in writing because it is a tremendous creative process. When Russ finished a chapter, he sent it out to a team of readers for their feedback. About 25 readers have given Russ excellent feedback, which was very valuable.
Russ is very happy he has been able to fulfill a dream but realized how much longer it takes than you might imagine. He originally thought he would have the book published five months ago.
Russ has had to learn how to be his own boss and obey his boss. He realized that to get serious work done, he had to leave the house to escape the distractions of home. Russ went to a local coffee shop, three days a week, and hunkered down for several hours. Russ found it was a good atmosphere for writing.
He chose readers from among his friends and family and from posts he put on Facebook, and on a forum for people who have an interest in the Camino de Santiago. He found a dozen readers who had walked the Camino. Russ says these are his best readers because they know the experience exactly.
Russ asks you, if you give feedback to a writer, to try to frame it in a positive way. The authors are writing about themselves!
Russ’s wife is ruthless in marking grammar and punctuation errors and striking out words! Sometimes an editor or a reader is off, but mostly they are right. Russ set the publishing date of Labor Day, September 2, 2019, because he had a trip planned for the end of September to do a two-week walk between Rome and Florence in the Umbrian Mountains, with his wife, for their 40th wedding anniversary. Russ wanted the book out of the way to get ready for the walk.
Update 2021 Interview
Russ published his book in September of 2019. By early 2020 he was speaking at live events. He was doing a book tour and had acquired a few clients. Then the pandemic hit and for about a month everything crashed.
Russ spent the last half of 2020 adapting.
He switched from doing live events to doing virtual events over Zoom and Facebook Live. He started a monthly author interview with other authors who wrote about hiking the Camino-Santiago trail.
He did not have to do much adapting to his publishing business.
Russ’s goal is to write 5 books in the next 5 years. His plan was to finish the walk in Italy and write a book in 2020. That did not happen.
He had in the back of his mind to write a bicycling tour book about riding from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. He waited until the COVID-19 pandemic had calmed and he left Pittsburgh on Labor Day weekend. He wrote a blog post each day and used that as fodder for writing a book.
His self-publishing business is doing very well and he has gotten over the shock of 2020. He is fine staying home, working with clients, and working on his book.
Books sales did very well over the holidays.
Russ learned to expect the unexpected and how to pivot to a new plan.
A lot of Americans are discovering that non-traditional tourism is affordable and enjoyable.
The goal of his next book which is tentatively titled, “A Ride of Passage”, is to inspire people to go out and ride bikes.
Russ has been in the Career Pivot Community for about 2 years and now has a community that knows him in a new way. He has gotten new ideas like doing online appearances. He is teaching classes for GetSetUp.io which came through a referral from another community member.
Russ is grateful for having a good year.
You can find Russ at RussEanes.com.
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