WHAT STARTED as a letter of advice to a daughter turning 30 blossomed into a commissioned book series for one Carroll County woman and her best friend.
Finksburg resident Peggy Stout and Jean Aziz of Columbia have been friends for more than 25 years. Their friendship has been peppered with late-night talks and tears, with getting to know each other's families, and with swapping advice about raising children and the work world.
Much of that advice, as well as wisdom gleaned from interviews with more than 50 women throughout the United States, is part of Stout and Aziz's first book, Wise Women Speak to the Woman Turning 30.
The book is the first in a series that has been commissioned and marketed by Capital Books in Sterling, Va.
Future books in the Wise Women Speak series will include advice about marriage, parenthood, and surviving a serious illness, surviving the loss of a loved one, retirement, and achieving balance in a busy life.
"What fuels this series is our diehard belief that all of us have advice or pieces of wisdom to share based on experiences - both happy and sad," said Stout. "And we believe that you don't have to be Oprah to share it."
Stout and Aziz are educators with advanced degrees in special education. They have collaborated on numerous professional writings and presentations. Their book reaches into territory beyond any of their previous collaborations.
They describe their publication as an "interactive self-help gift book." It includes 60 pages of illustrated quotes as well as blank journal pages for personal musings.
Marie Bode of Laurel created the watercolor illustrations. The quotations, which range from whimsical to serious, are by Stout, Aziz, and women from throughout the nation.
"In the end, it doesn't really matter if all 12 napkins match" and "You can be strong without diminishing others" are two of the authors' favorite quotations, they said.
"It has been fun. At first, we found people who were willing to be interviewed primarily by word-of-mouth," Aziz explained. "Of course, we networked within our families, lots of friends and friends of friends during the early stages of the project."
Both said they knew the importance of knowing their market. It could be a beautiful book, Stout noted, but it has to sell.
"We went to gift shops and libraries to look at other gift books, and we explored questions like, `Who publishes these books?' and `What have they got that our book doesn't have?'" Aziz said. "We became more and more convinced that our book would be marketable."
In April last year, the authors sent queries to several publishing companies.
"Within days, we got a call from [a publisher] in New York," said Stout. "I'll always remember that call because it was my birthday, April 4. We were very excited; from what others said, this kind of response seemed to be unheard of."
"That company wanted our bios, more quotations," Aziz said. "And then we waited. After five or six weeks, that company told us the book was not a good business proposition." The two authors pitched the project to Capital Books; days after the first publisher pulled back, Capital Books Publisher Kathleen Hughes called in Stout and Aziz for a visit.
"We thought we would have to pitch the book more, but it was clear early on that they ... wanted it," Stout said. "They not only wanted the book, they wanted a series of books, and they were ready to write a check."
The first book became available last week. On May 11, the authors will throw a private party at the old Westminster Post Office to launch book signings in Maryland, Maine and New York - hometowns of friends and relatives.
In addition, Stout and Aziz will talk about the book and their experiences in the publishing world at Carroll County Women's Fair on Saturday.
"We are learning so much along the way," Stout said. "About everything - from incorporation to trademarks, to publishing and marketing; it is amazing how much there is to know."
Their latest lesson, taught by family members and friends, included creating an interactive Wise Women Speak Web site. This site, the authors hope, will provide fodder for future books. People may log on (wisewomenspeak.com) and answer questionnaires on topics slated for the remaining books in the series.
"This whole series started when I penned some advice to my daughter, Astrid, when she turned 30," Aziz said. "Now as Peggy and I are talking - to each other and to many other women - we honestly believe that the advice we collect, these wisdoms, can mirror life's ultimate truths for women of all generations."
Celebrating 50 years
The GFWC Junior Woman's Club of Westminster recently celebrated its 50th anniversary by having tea and tributes at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Westminster.
About 50 honorary members, charter members, current members, past presidents and guests gathered for proclamations and greetings from throughout the nation.