I am always astounded at how quickly the time goes during live appearances. This appearance was no different. Before I knew it, the host was wrapping up my segment, thanking me for my time and directing folks to visit my website for more information.
The next day, I received an email from someone who did just that. They wanted to know about my books and where they were available. They had seen me on the episode of Daytime Ottawa, and they wanted to access my books. I directed them to my Amazon page first (not knowing yet that they lived locally), then indicated they could buy directly from me if they were in the Ottawa area.
"I saw you on TV, but I can't afford your books." The email response did not deter me, as I directed them to our library to access them for free. I am so proud that my library has chosen to put their faith in my books by ordering multiple copies. Libraries support education and literary in an equitable fashion. As a child, we didn't have a library branch near our home, but we did have monthly visits from their bookmobile. It was my favourite day of the month.
When I published my first book, it was a great feeling of accomplishment. It was only when I saw that book in circulation at our library that I truly felt I was an author. Even if you can't afford to buy one of my books, I hope you'll be able to access it via the library.
If you live in another city, you can request that they purchase a book. This blog explains how to do it. And if you'd like to request they purchase one of my books, you can find details you'll need for your request by following the book links on my Amazon Author Page.
On that note, I'm off to read a book. That I checked out of the library.
After publishing five non-fiction books, I decided to turn my hand to the world of make-believe. Earlier this year, I published my debut novel, Selfried and the Secrets. Unfortunately, it happened in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, stifling my ability to hold an official, in-person book launch. Instead, I hosted a live launch online. If you missed it, not to worry, the book is still available for sale, and I'm sharing another excerpt below.*
Dedication: To anyone who’s felt sucked in by social media, this book is for you.
If you don't want anyone to know, don't do it.
– Chinese Proverb
One year earlier
Selfried removed her large sunglasses and scarf as she seated herself opposite the lawyer. When Digital Dialogue had first suggested she hire staff to populate her online world and help her grow her bottom line, she knew the proper paperwork would be required to lock down their loyalty. She wanted the most ironclad non-disclosure agreement money could buy, so she had donned a blond wig to jet off to Los Angeles, choosing to hire an out-of-state law firm that was recommended by Wister himself. Accustomed to dealing with high-priced clients that wanted their privacy maintained, the firm had a car service pick her up at the airport, the driver carrying a sign for “Roberta Jones”—the name they employed to keep female clients’ actual identities under wraps. The other side of the sign he held covered the bases in case the potential client was male. The driver was further instructed to keep the privacy screen raised on the hour-long drive to their office, to not engage in small talk with clients, and to avoid direct eye contact when taking bags and opening doors. The less he knew about his passenger, the better it was for his long-term employment with Blosky, Charles, and Smith.
Selfried had to admit, she was impressed by the level of discretion displayed by the firm, settling in to the cozy sedan with its well-stocked mini fridge, sliding off her black boots and reaching for a sparkling water. Her online celebrity was growing, and she could easily get used to this level of luxury. Opting to keep her small travel bag in the back seat, Selfried reached into the outside pocket, pulling out her phone to check Justin’s progress with a quick text. Any luck finding a trainer?
His response came quickly, as her phone dinged in her hand. Yup. When will you have the paperwork?
She checked her watch before responding. Soon. I’m half an hour out from the lawyer’s office. I’ll fax it to you shortly.
Selfried watched the three dots for a few moments before Justin’s reply popped up on her screen. Don’t. Have them transfer it to the USB I gave you, and then upload it like I showed you how.
He was right, they wanted to keep the trail back to her base under wraps. And anyone could be bought, even a disgruntled staff member at a high-priced law firm. Fine. I’ll text you when it’s been uploaded.
Tossing her phone onto the seat beside her, Selfried leaned back and closed her eyes. No need to worry about the outside world at the moment…unless. The relaxing ride was helping her brain plan out new posts, new images. With her dark glasses still in place, she decided a selfie was in order. No need to keep her adoring fans from enjoying her flawless style. And Digital Dialogue had indicated that she’d receive bonuses for posts that could skirt the new ad regulations being imposed on social media influencers. She tried a number of angles before choosing a photo that clearly showed the shades without revealing the logo on the arm, but everyone knew the iconically-shaped glasses were a bestseller for Urbane Accessories. She opened the Instagram app and loaded the image into her stories, pausing a moment to choose the best caption.
#luxury #treatyourself #limo
Perfect, she thought, tossing her phone down once again and retrieving her sparkling water from the cup holder. She’d wait a few hours before checking the stats, then she’d upload one of the other photos she’d just captured, with a little bit less of the glasses showing, the rest of the frame being taken over by her right ear and a glimpse out the window of the moving car. There was nothing identifiable in the shot, so no one would know it was a suburb of LA they were seeing pass by.
The driver pulled into a sleepy suburban strip mall, slowing down only when he arrived at the end unit. They were far enough away from the next business for Selfried to emerge from the back seat undetected. But she needn't have worried, as there was no one around to take note of celebrity comings and goings. The front office staff were deferential to her as they were to all incoming clients, and she waved them away when they offered to stow her luggage and bring her a beverage of her choice. She was here for one thing and one thing only, and she wanted to get right down to business. They led her to the largest office, that of lead partner and founder, Dick Blosky.
Selfried leaned towards the massive desk, locking eyes with the equally massive man occupying the other side of it. “Well, Mr. Blosky. Do you have my documents ready?”
“Document, Ms. Jones.” He was keeping up the veil of secrecy, not referring to Selfried’s true name, since he didn’t actually know it. Their meeting today would be the final time they would interact, once Selfried had a copy of the non-disclosure agreement on her USB drive and Blosky had an envelope of cash that would more than cover creation of the legal document. “A confidentiality agreement and a non-disclosure agreement are one and the same. Here’s your copy to review.”
Blosky pushed a stack of printed papers towards Selfried and continued, “You’ll see where you need to enter your name and where your employee enters their details. I would recommend you have them initial each page, to ensure they’ve read it through.”
Selfried glanced at the first page before leafing through the entire document. “And this will keep them from blabbing about me to others?”
“While they work for you and for the next five years, at risk of serious financial penalty. If they sign this NDA, you’ve got an airtight guarantee that will hold up in court, should they breach their contract.”
Shaking her head, Selfried was growing frustrated by Blosky’s bravado. “I don’t want to win in court. I don’t want to end up in court. Period. I want to prevent them from talking at all by scaring them into silence. Will this document do the job?”
“Most certainly it will, if they have any sense at all. Our clients are the top-tier in their fields and they value their privacy. We have never had a contract breach.”
Reaching into her bag, Selfried retrieved the USB drive and slid it across the table. “Kindly have one of your staff copy it for me. Then I’ll be on my way.”
*Copyright Amanda Sterczyk 2020, all rights reserved.
The following excerpt is from my upcoming first novel, Selfried and the Secrets, and provides a unique take on physical distancing. I wrote this scene six months ago, but it seems very relevant in our current reality. Remember, stay healthy, stay home.
"Her concern for her younger brother’s safety kept Charlotte up at night. Chris was different, he lacked finesse and social skills when it came to interacting with others. Despite the fact that his mind was a steel trap, never forgetting anything he saw, read or heard, he struggled with unwritten social norms.
As a young boy, their mother had taken him two towns over to learn about proper distancing when you were in public, because they had a shop with automatic doors. Chris couldn’t grasp that people expected you to remain outside their “invisible bubble,” as their mother had described it, and so he always stood too close to strangers. This kind of behaviour would get him into trouble, she explained to Charlotte, and was a key factor in her pulling Charlotte out of school to homeschool both children. Charlotte could help around the house during her brother’s lessons, her mother no longer needed to drive her to school—since the elementary school was even further away than the high school and the bus didn’t stop in their town—and could then focus more of her time and energy on preparing Chris for life outside their home.
And that’s how they found themselves outside the automatic doors on a summer day, waiting for a break in shoppers, and coaxing Chris forward until he was close enough to trigger the sensor and witness for himself the opening doors. Their mother explained that if the doors were a person, standing close enough for them to open meant Chris was inside the person’s privacy bubble, and that was too close. He needed to back up ever so slightly—too far away could also be off-putting as you would need to raise your voice to speak—so that the doors remained closed and the strangers weren’t on guard.
The lesson lasted over two hours, as Chris paced back and forth, counting off the number of small steps, and then the number of large steps, required to keep the doors from opening. Finally, their mother felt he was ready to test out his new social skills at another store, where he couldn’t use the cues of the surrounding environment to determine if he was remaining just outside the bubble. She piled them back into the car and drove for half an hour, before stopping in a town that was completely new to both Chris and Charlotte. Their juvenile minds were fascinated to discover new sights and sounds, despite the fact that this stop lasted less than 30 seconds. After parking the car in a new-to-them store parking lot, their mother turned to Chris and instructed him to approach the doors as if it was a person who wanted their privacy bubble preserved. Ever the obedient son, Chris hopped out and walked confidently towards the automatic doors, his older sister marvelling at the determination in his step. He stopped just shy of the door, turned to see his mother’s nod of approval, then leaned forward until he heard the telltale swish of the doors opening.
One lesson down, so many to go to keep Chris safe in a world that didn’t understand that his brain was wired differently, that he couldn’t decipher social cues or interpret nonverbal communication. Charlotte became very protective of her brother in public, working to help her mother train his brain to function outside the home without drawing attention, or worse, ire to his actions."
Image source: CDC/ Richard Duncan, MRP, Sr. Proj. Mngr, North Carolina State University, The Center for Universal Design (free of copyright restricitions)
Text: Copyright Amanda Sterczyk, 2020, All rights reserved.
After 10 years in the fitness industry, I decided to pack it in. But not before sharing my experiences as a solopreneur (solo entrepreneur). And some funny, some crazy, things that happened to me along the way. Below, you'll find the complete table of contents, as well as an excerpt from the foreword. And if you'd like to order your very own copy, you can pick it up on Amazon.
Like I say in the introduction of this, my fourth book, "If I'm being honest, I entered the fitness industry for all the wrong reasons."
From the foreword: “Whether you are an avid fitness junkie, weekend warrior, fitness instructor, or just your everyday Joe, there's something for you in this book…As you read through Amanda's journey from beginning to end, you gain inside information and a few laughs you didn't know you needed. So sit down with a cup of coffee and get ready to have a great conversation with a friend. Because that's exactly what this book feels like — a conversation with a friend about real life.”
And here's a glimpse at the Table of Contents:
The following excerpt comes from my upcoming fifth book, I Can See Your Underwear: My Journey Through the Fitness World. It's been a decade since I first took the plunge into fitness as a profession. As I look at that experience through the rear-view mirror, I can honestly say that I entered the fitness world for all the wrong reasons. Have I piqued your interest? Read on...
Did I Ever Look Like a Fitness Professional?*
I have spent many years, decades even, focused on dieting and never being truly happy with my appearance. As I said at the beginning, a huge part of me believed a career in the fitness would accelerate the process of changing my appearance.
It has never once occurred to me to judge someone else based on their appearance. Instead, I look at their character — how they treat me and others. Are they reliable? Do they keep their word? Are they kind to those less fortunate?
Yet, when it came to me, I always assumed no one would accept me unless I was skinny and svelte, especially as I transitioned into my new career in the fitness industry. What if clients wouldn’t accept me as a fitness expert because of my appearance?
More than once, I heard, “You don’t look like a fitness instructor.” What, exactly, is a fitness instructor meant to look like? People come in all shapes in sizes. Shouldn’t that ring true for individuals, no matter their profession? Rhetorical question.
I also heard, “I like taking classes with you because you look like a normal person.” Where does that come from? An unrealistic expectation and representation of everyone in the fitness industry as rake-thin, that’s where.
Skinny does not equal fit. There, I said it. A skinny person can be unfit just as easily as someone who is not as skinny. But there’s always been a part of me that doesn’t believe that for myself. Yes, I have a double standard, in that I judge myself more critically than others.
Don’t worry, I know I’m not the only one setting up base camp here. The problem is, being in the fitness industry was a constant reminder that my internal voice was judging my fitness, or rather, my unfitness to practice.
And our new-found selfie culture doesn’t help. Too many svelte fit pros spend too much time touting their amazing bodies. Or we see the before and after photos of “incredible transformations” of their previously fat clients. The “fitspiration” (fitness inspiration) images on social media imply that you’re better off being skinny and photogenic than being your true self and healthy.
My fragile ego has had enough. Even when I was starving and over-exercising to maintain what I thought was the proper form for a fitness professional, I still lacked the confidence to have my picture taken while wearing a swimsuit.
The anxiety of not looking the part created a cycle of overeating for me that collided with the start of menopause. I’m sure you know what happened next: a self-fulfilling prophecy of not “looking” like a toned fitness professional. Yes, it was self-sabotage at its worst. But the messages online also said I should look like a ballet dancer, and I’ve always been built like a soccer player. These messages, by the way, came directly from fitness gurus and their most avid followers, including fellow fitness professionals. No wonder I wasn’t able to accept myself — I didn’t feel accepted by fitness colleagues and mentors.
*Copyright Amanda Sterczyk 2020, all rights reserved.
I've been working on a novel, my first novel. It's called Selfried and the Secret. The story follows a social media influencer whose secret is exposed in a very public way. But Selfried isn't the only one who's harbouring a secret. It would seem that everyone in her life has something to hide. I hope you enjoy the following excerpt.
(copyright Amanda Sterczyk 2019, all rights reserved)
Brooke hadn’t planned to be a young mother, just as she hadn’t planned to be a dropout. Before everything went to shit, she was an aspiring singer, studying music at a midwest—somewhat decent—public university, with dreams of moving to New York and performing on Broadway—not as an actor that could sing, as a bona fide singer—but that was before the shitstorm, a period in her life that left her conflicted. Because the After, after the shitstorm, that is, was more than she could have ever imagined. There were challenges, she wasn’t going to lie or try to sugarcoat it, but the After, well, that was all about Lincoln, her new love. And although her life went to shit before Lincoln, the shitstorm had partly produced him, so she determined that she would begin referring to the shitstorm as the In-Between.
In-Between the Before and the After, that was a better way to think of the time that had produced her beautiful baby boy. Sure, she had had to drop out of school, delete her social media accounts, move to another town where no one knew her, and cut ties with family and friends. Dropping out was a no-brainer, she would have lost her scholarship anyway. If the Chrisitan college had discovered her pregnancy, she would have been shown the door, and she never would have been able to show her face back home.
Many of the students recruited to attend Go with God College came from lower income families who couldn’t afford tuition, Brooke included. And so, they signed the draconian celibacy agreement on the first day of classes, thankful for the opportunity of better jobs that came with higher education.
Early last year, I had the crazy notion that I should write and self-publish a book. So I did, and I loved every moment of the process. At the time, I figured I would be a one-hit wonder, a personal trainer that had written a book, as in, ONE book.
But something magical happened when I started sharing my book with people. It was well-received. One person in particular gave me the boost I needed to continue writing. Although we’ve not yet met in person, we have been interacting for the past year. Let me explain. Last Christmas, I was completing continuing education credits to maintain my personal trainer certification. In my case, I had purchased a block of lectures from my licensing body, ACSM—the American College of Sports Medicine.
One of the lectures was by Dr. Barry Franklin. I quite enjoyed his presentation and sent him an email to thank him for the session. In my note, I mentioned that I had just written a book, Move More, Your Life Depends On It, that was in line with the key messages in his presentation, and I offered to send him a copy. He thanked me for my note, accepted my offer, and in turn offered to send me a copy of his book, One Heart, Two Feet: Enhancing Heart Health One Step at a Time. He also invited me to his conference later that winter in Michigan, Advances in Heart Disease Prevention and Rehabilitation.
Fast forward a few months, and Barry had again emailed me to suggest we collaborate on a book. I was flattered, but didn’t think about his invitation any further. At the time, I had no inclination to pen another book. But then I was inspired to write a second book, and I again reflected on Barry’s offer. I even sent him a copy of Balance and Your Body: How Exercise Can Help You Avoid a Fall along with a request: Would he be wiling to write the foreword for book three, Your Job Is Killing You: A User’s Guide to Sneaking Exercise Into Your Work Day.
He agreed and again suggested we talk about a potential collaboration. A few months ago, we finally found a suitable time to chat over the phone and hash out the beginnings of a book. Today, I am pleased to announce the title of our upcoming collaboration:
So, who is Dr. Barry Franklin? Here’s his bio from Wayne State University:
Barry A. Franklin is Director of the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program and Exercise Laboratories, William Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Michigan, and Professor of Physiology, Wayne State University, School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan. He is the past Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention and the American Journal of Medicine & Sports, and is a past president of the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (1988) and the American College of Sports Medicine (1999). Currently, he holds formal editorial board appointments with 15 different scientific and clinical journals, including the American Journal of Cardiology, Chest, Preventive Cardiology, Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise, American Journal of Health Promotion, and the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. He is also the current chair of the American Heart Associations’ Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism. Dr. Franklin and his associates have studied the hemodynamic and cardiorespiratory responses to numerous occupational and leisure-time activities. Other areas of research interest include the primary and secondary prevention of heart disease and the risks associated with sporadic, high-intensity exercise. Dr. Franklin has written or edited more than 500 publications, including 375 papers, 77 book chapters, and 27 books.
Pretty impressive, don’t you agree? We will begin writing in the spring of 2020, with an expected publication date of late 2020.
I am what you would call the poster child for introverted authors everywhere, toiling away in private, keeping my head down to work on my oeuvres — you get the idea. So joining not one but two online NaNoWriMo accountability groups was out of character for me. But I did it anyway, partly to see if being held accountable for writing every day would change my habits for the better.
Are you curious about my success? While I didn’t achieve the goal of completing my novel’s manuscript, heck, I didn’t even crack the 50K word goal, I did learn a lot about myself during the process:
While my intention at the beginning of the month had been to write my novel, Selfried and the Secret, I was actually juggling four books:
That first day I was forced to write a zero on my word count tally, well, that hurt. I felt like I was letting the group down, that I was letting myself down. Until I read posts from my fellow writers, some of whom were experiencing similar challenges with daily writing, for a variety of reasons. And I remembered why I wanted to focus on writing and publishing my works: for me and my audience. So I let myself off the hook. I was doing fine, and I needed to get back to writing for the right reasons.
When I experienced a second day of entering zero in my word count tally, I realized I wouldn’t be able to crack 50,000 words. I made the decision to adjust my monthly goal down from 50,000 to 40,000 words. And I did it! By mid-afternoon on November 30th, my word count ticked past 40K. The bulk of my words this month went to my first novel in progress, currently resting at 28,000 words, patiently awaiting my return. It also included three blog posts, key updates — to the tune of 6,500 words — to the manuscript for my fourth non-fiction book, and a decent chunk of a fifth non-fiction book, which came to me as a result of our family emergency earlier in the month.
It’s now December and I’m going to continue trying to write and create every day, but I’m also going to cut myself some slack if it doesn’t happen. Did the month-long challenge change my habit? Yes and no. It helped me be more comfortable with writing at different times of the day. But as I’ve noted before that even on the days I’m not writing, the wheels in my brain never stop turning. I’m pondering, reflecting, editing in my head. So whether or not these words make it on to paper or a screen, they’re still alive, waiting to be shared with the world.
All in good time, all in good time.
What happened with my book deal: Over the summer, I published my second book - Balance and Your Body: How Exercise Can Help You Avoid a Fall. I was really happy with how it turned out, and I’ve gotten great feedback.
I’ve almost sold out of my first printing her in Ottawa (but I can order more at any time, if you’re interested in purchasing a copy!), and it’s selling steadily on Amazon. It was time to move on to my third book.
In early September, I received an email through my website about Balance and Your Body. An editor at a New York-based publisher had found my book on Amazon and wanted to know if I was interested in updating it and re-releasing it with them, or writing another book on the same topic for them to publish. I asked around about this type of occurrence — i.e., a self-published author being headhunted by a publishing company — and although it is rare, it does happen from time to time.
I hopped on a call with the editor to find out more. From the first contact, I had always been willing to walk away if the proposal didn’t work for me. We exchanged many emails while she prepared a pitch for the larger editorial team. Then we hit radio silence. I figured her pitch had been rejected, so I moved on with my own writing/self-publishing timeline, and more or less forgot about it.
Fast forward to October, when another person from the same publisher reached out, explaining that the first editor had left for another job. Was a I still interested in producing a balance/exercise book with them? Sure!
More emails and phone calls, as they outlined how the book would look different coming through their publishing house. This included me producing and sending to them lots of sample photographs of the exercises (I had used illustrations in my book, to keep costs low, and to make the exercises seem more approachable to all).
Again, another lapse of time after their pitch and an eventual follow-up with me. I honestly thought I was being ghosted for a second time by the same company.
Late last week, I finally received an offer and a contract to review. I already had the names of several literary lawyers to contact, should this day arise. Yesterday, I spent one hour on the phone with one of these lawyers, going through the contract line by line. At the end our call, I had five pages of notes: sections where she recommended I have them strike portions, amend others, and have frank discussions with them before signing.
The advance they were offering was going to be chewed up by a photographer that I would be hiring to do photo versions of all the exercises. There were also a lot of restrictions around publishing other books—and I currently have three more in progress—as well as ownership and rights around the book I would be producing for them.
The original “Balance and Your Body” was meant to be a small book, so I was happy that it came in just under 120 pages. As my future collaborator, Dr. Barry Franklin, said, I’m writing “little books with BIG impact.” I love that sentiment, and I love that my books are accessible. Balance and Your Body is 16,000 words, while they wanted to update it to a tome of 40,000 to 45,000 words. And part of the deal would have meant delisting Balance and Your Body.
I was on the fence during the call with the lawyer. But deep down, I realized that I’m happier carving my own path at the moment. So I told them thank you but no thank you; that I wanted to stay self-publishing my books and being in charge of my catalogue.
And they were really gracious when I turned them down. Here’s part of her response to me: “If anything changes in terms of your scheduling preferences or you come up with another idea that you think would be better suited to more traditional publishing, please feel free to circle back with me, as we’d be open to talking.”
Never say never, who knows if I’ll come up with an idea that I’ll want to publish with them. In the meantime, I’m chugging away on my first novel, and the germ of an idea for my next novel popped into my head as I walked to work early this morning!
A few days ago, my book cover designer sent me the cover roughs for my upcoming fourth book, I Can See Your Underwear: My Journey Through the Fitness World. It was a set of four options on the design for my cover. In less than 24 hours, we were back and forth twice more, and I had my final design. (And if you keep reading, you’ll see it for yourself.)
We had actually started the process a few months ago, but I asked her to hit pause on the design. You see, I thought I was fine with the title and subtitle, but I was having second thoughts. No point having my designer go through a full round of editing if the text was liable to change!
And that’s a key part of the creative process, especially when you’re a self-published author: having a catchy title that’ll will be noticed, but that also includes multiple keywords. You know, the words someone might type into a Google or Amazon search bar to find a book. In the case of my fourth book, I jumped the gun on naming it. Luckily, I realized my error before I had spent money on the cover design.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I unpaused the cover design, asking my designer to continue with this project. We again had a few back and forth emails, and in one she asked about font.
“I trust your design expertise on the font front.”
Well, that was probably the best response I could have sent, because she replied along the lines,
“If you trust my design skills, can I give you feedback on the image you chose?”
When planning my book covers, I browse stock photo websites and purchase images there. In this case, though, my cover designer felt the image I had chosen was of lower quality than my other cover images. Basically, it wasn’t the right look for the overall theme of my books. She then recommended I hire a graphic artist to create an image that worked with my other covers.
Thus began a multi-day search for a suitable artist. I vetted half a dozen artists and settled on one who, it turns out, lives about 15 minutes away from me! I was speaking with artists from around the world, and found the most suitable one very close to home. Small world indeed…
What a fun process it was to have a talented artist create the image that I would eventually use! First round saw him send me a black and white image for approval:
Next up, he filled in the colours and sent me several drafts over the course of a Saturday afternoon and evening. By the fourth draft, I was pleased with the final product and signed off on it. So that was the image I sent to my cover designer, along with a mockup of my cover—this time, with all the right words in the title and subtitle.
Would you like to see the cover of my next book? Keep scrolling down this page…
What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment below.
Amanda Sterczyk is a Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM), an Exercise is Medicine Canada (EIMC) Fitness Professional, and a Certified Essentrics® Instructor. She offers in-home personal training in central Ottawa. Amanda specializes in helping older adults maintain and increase strength, flexibility, and mobility. No fitness goal is too small, in her opinion.