Interview with Paul Stutzman, author of Hiking Through: Finding Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail

Paul Stutzman spent 25 years building a career in food service, but he left that career after his wife died of breast cancer. At 58, he began a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, walking from Georgia to Maine, seeking healing and answers to questions about God’s relevance in his life. His book, Hiking Through: Finding Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail, chronicles both his trail journey and his spiritual journey. You can visit his website at www.hikingthrough.com.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Paul. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I consider myself a very private person, and to open myself up as I did in Hiking Through was something foreign to my nature. I think, though, there are too many men going through life just as I was—too busy living to be living. It was very important to me to share a message with men to appreciate their spouses while they have the opportunity. This book was my first manuscript.


Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

The book is about my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail while grieving the loss of my wife to breast cancer. I wrote it for two reasons. It’s an adventure story; we all need adventure. I also had a message I wanted to get out.


What kind of research was involved in writing (please italicize book title here – no caps or quote marks)?

Research? Living life for 58 years and walking 2,176 miles. The path I hiked on the AT paralleled my journey through life.


Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?
I had heard so much about the difficulty of getting manuscripts published, that the first decision had to be whether I would self-publish or go with a traditional publisher. There are now so many resources available to a writer, and researching and sifting through an information overload to try to find the company that was right for me was probably the most difficult part of the entire process.


For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

The official release date is April 6, 2010, but the book is selling well locally and through my website. It was seven months from the time I signed the contract to the time I held the book in my hands.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

I don’t have an agent. In the first place, it’s difficult for an unknown author to get his work noticed, even if he has a good story to tell. In my observation, traditional publishing houses will print anything if there’s a famous or notorious name on the cover. But as an unknown, I knew selling my manuscript to a publisher might take a while. I didn’t want to wait; I was in a hurry to get my message out.

Once I did the research, I realized the bulk of the work of marketing a book still falls on the author, no matter who publishes it. With many very professional companies to work with on book production, I believe writers can have a high-quality book and make more money if they self-publish.


Do you plan subsequent books?

That’s easy. I’ve already got three more projects I’m working on. The next will be a cross-country bicycle trip, and the resulting book, Front Porch America, will tell the stories of people I meet and talk with on their front porches.

Can you describe your most favorite place to write?

At the kitchen counter with a cup of coffee or a cold Coke and candy bar with the sun streaming in through the window.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

I’d hire a Washington lobbyist to run my marketing campaign.


How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Book signings, speaking appearances, my website, an online book tour. I’ll talk to one person or one hundred. It’s up to the author to promote his book, and—being a new author—I’ll take any chance I get to talk about Hiking Through. It’s an advantage to live in small-town America; word-of-mouth publicity is very effective.


What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?

No. I hiked 2,176 miles only by sheer stubbornness and persistence. Writers may give up if they don’t believe in what they have to say. I know it’s extremely difficult, but I had a message that I had to get out and I never considered giving up.


Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

I walked from Georgia to Maine by getting up every morning and putting one foot in front of the other—five million times. Get up every morning and keep walking!


Thank you for your interview, Paul. I wish you much success!

Thank you. The book has been selling very well. I’d encourage everyone to go to my website and take a look at the photo tour of the Trail, find out more about what I did and why I did it. And then buy my book!


Paul Stutzman is on virtual book tour during March and April 2010. If you'd like to visit his official tour page, click here.


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