Paul Wesslund

Introducing Paul Wesslund

HA: Why did you choose to work with Heart Ally Books, LLC?

PW: Trust. First, my editor recommended Heart Ally, and I trust her completely. She’s batted a thousand as an editor and human being, so Heart Ally seemed likely to live up to those standards. Second, despite the strong recommendation, I did due diligence and interviewed Lisa, and felt that trust continuing. She knew of my first book and believed in my second, even though it was unfinished. In my limited experience with agents and publishers, they seem most interested in defining categories and target audiences. Fair enough, I suppose, but I’m a writer. I believe the target audience for my book is everyone. I can use a bit more help in determining market segmentation (LOL). Third, Heart Ally has experience and with inspirational works and understanding and appreciation for uniqueness, which is a great comfort when the project involves the investment of my heart and soul.

HA: You found my weak spot: I love a passion project. And I’m willing to put in the work to find that audience segment that will love it.

This is not your first book. What was the most surprising experience you had becoming an author for the first time? Was there anything that struck you as different about working with Heart Ally?

PW: I was most impressed with how I was guided through the process. My writing career has been in institutional work and periodicals, and I have resisted books as an extraordinarily different and unfamiliar world. But the story called out to me as one that needed to be told. My level of mysticism is fairly low and my religion is a bit complicated to explain in a soundbite, but the book felt like a thing I was called to do. I’ve especially noticed since then, in interviews with creative people, they often talk about feeling similarly directed. Besides the overall storytelling, I found that often when I was stuck on a particular sentence or paragraph, I could sit back, close my eyes and listen to the story. The logic and the flow would tell me what the next words needed to be.

Since that book was self-published, I have limited experience with other publishers, but that tells its own story. I chose self-publication because I learned a likely lead time with a publisher would be at least 18 months, and I felt my story needed to get out to the world sooner than that. Second, I ran into agents who wanted to push the book into a category, especially wanting to pigeonhole it as a religious book. Fundamental to my concept of the story is that everyone has some sort of spirituality in them and that spirituality should not be left out of describing who the characters were. When I talked to potential agents, they advised that what I considered a business book; they considered a religious book. Heart Ally accepts and even celebrates that life doesn’t fit into a single category.

HA: Do you have a favorite or least favorite part of being an author?

PW: If you haven’t figured it out, marketing and promotion is my least favorite. I have some background in both, but when you’re trying to sell the product of your own creativity, it feels almost cruel to be asked to condense it into a tagline. The hardest writing I’ve ever done was to write a 500-word summary of my book. Probably my second-favorite part of writing is talking about the book. Preparing a presentation always involves some pre-stage jitters, but during and after a lecture or leading a study or discussion group, the high is extraordinary. My favorite part is writing itself. Rising early in the morning, cupping my mug of coffee and knowing that for the next few hours I’ll be living in a world I’m creating feels secure and profoundly optimistic—the process assumes I’m making something I love. Knowing that incredibly hard work lies ahead only increases the joy.

HA: Talk a bit about the heart of the book and what led you to write Small Business, Big Heart? What led you to write the study guide?

PW: I spent a career working for nonprofits that tend to think of themselves as causey organizations doing good work, which is kind of true, but they can also fail in the way any organization can. One phrase I felt I heard often from that perspective was, “Doing the right thing can be good business.” I would always think, no, doing the right thing IS good business. But I was always just a guy working for a salary—what did I know? Then I met a couple who owned a restaurant and worked to run it “fair and honest” and treat employees the way they would want to be treated. Here was proof from the real world of something I believed. Their example also had good storytelling elements of conflict and surprise. The journey to their business philosophy was a difficult one that nearly destroyed their family. And their compassionate business model didn’t come from a desire to be do-gooders—they needed good, long-term employees for their business to succeed and found that the best way to get those employees was by treating them with kindness. Being nice wasn’t just nice, it turned out to be how their business succeeded.

The business owners’ spirituality was discussed in the book, but it was a theme that probably had too much religion to be just a business book, but not enough to be a religious book. I resisted the categorization and that led me to self-publish. But through my church, I met a woman who read my book, had attended seminary, and was a freelance writer of scriptural study guides. She told me she thought my book would lend itself to a study guide, and I saw it as another chance to further a mission I believed in—to promote what I see as the theme of my book which is that kindness and decency succeeds in business and in life. It was also a way to highlight the Christian aspect of the book without compromising the overall storytelling. And as someone who has been a leader of a church Sunday school class, I know people are always looking for Bible study programs—I know there’s a market there if I can just reach it.

HA: What do you hope people will take away from the study guide?

PW: That the phrase “It’s not personal, it’s just business,” is ridiculous. As a human being, and as a Christian, we should stand for something, and that means we should stand for it at home, in church, and at work. Part of my view of Christianity is that it should be real, that it means going out into the world and acting on messages like, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s almost the opposite of how Christianity is portrayed in popular media these days. Many years ago, a friend was helping me unpack after a move, and we had to get rid of all the boxes. He instructed me to crease the cardboard “to break down the integrity of the box.” As a wordsmith that sent me to the dictionary. We generally use integrity these days as a synonym for honesty. But it really means being whole and undivided. Like a box, integrity strengthens you. Integrity is something I write about in Small Business, Big Heart, and it informs the concept of the study guide. In my view, Christianity is about humility and kindness, and it applies to all aspects of life. The study guide especially addresses applying these concepts to the workplace because business seems too often to be excused from the things that scripture calls for. When it came time to think up a title for the study guide, I was surprised to find that Christianity at Work was not already taken. That title being available is great for me but a bit of a sad commentary on popular culture. It also shows me the study guide offers a much-needed message.

HA: I’ve been a business owner for many years, and that integrity is a critical part of my business philosophy. It can be hard to know what the right thing to do is.

I love this book and your gentle approach to exploring the concepts of business from a Christian perspective. We’ll have fun finding that audience together!

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