Interview: Dr. Ken Druck
Favorite failures, confessions, curiosities, and advice
Dr. Ken Druck has been a bestselling author, speaker, organizational coach/consultant and inspirational leader for the last thirty-five years. In the 80’s he was a pop-psychology guru appearing regularly on shows like Phil Donahue and Oprah for his bestseller, The Secrets Men Keep. After the tragic death of his teenage daughter, Jenna, in 1996, he went through a dramatic shift. Suddenly, he was in the throes of grief, resilience, and learning how we go on. He founded the Jenna Druck Center to honor his daughter’s life and spirit. The Center has directly helped more than 7,500 bereaved families through its Families Helping Families program and trained more than 15,000 young women through the Spirit of Leadership program. Ken has become known as the guy that gets called in after tragedies – he’s helped families, communities and our nation rebuild after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Space Shuttle Disaster, and sadly, several school shootings beginning with Columbine up to the Uvalde school shooting in May 2022. When he wrote, How to Talk to Your Kids About School Violence in 2003, he never wished it would continue to sell as it does today.
Ken Druck’s other books include, How to Raise an Aging Parent, Courageous Aging, and The Real Rules of Life: Balancing Life’s Terms with Your Own.
CARINA SAMMARTINO: Hi Ken. Thanks for joining me today. You and I have worked together for a very long time – 10 years now – so it seemed fitting that you’d be my first interview for The Good Author.
KEN DRUCK: I can’t tell you how honored I am to be a part of this, and how excited I am to see you make your expertise available to authors who have not been able to work with you in the past. Thanks so much for having me.
CARINA: Alright, well let’s just jump right in. How many years have you been an author now?
KEN: I started in 1983 with The Secrets Men Keep.
CARINA: Looking back over all that time, what have been your favorite failures and or some surprising successes?
KEN: Well, you know, what we learn over time is that there are thousands of moving parts; that every new book is a startup. That's the expression in business. And that business has changed radically over the years, it has evolved from my first book in 1983 to my last book in 2020. And I think the most striking thing, the thing I've learned the most is, how many moving parts there are and how specialized you have to become to be successful. As an author, you need coaches and mentors, advisors. And that makes the critical difference.
In every turn, every phase of writing a book, now, we all have different goals, some of us want to be on the bestsellers list, some of us want to have a very specialized book that we use to reach a very specific population of people. And some of us are just kind of, you know, we just want to throw it out there and see what happens. We don't have a specific goal in mind, we want to write, we want to put it out into the world and see what happens.
But no matter what your goal is, there needs to be (and thank God I’ve had you) someone who can guide you in every step of the process and make sure every touchpoint has a second set of eyes.
CARINA: Aww, thanks for the flattery, Ken. But let’s get back to your favorite failure. I know you’ve had some shocking ones over the years.
KEN: One of my most memorable failures was when I was a guest on the Phil Donahue show, which was actually bigger than Oprah at the time, to discuss my book, The Secrets Men Keep. And I thought, Oh my God, you know, this is great! Donahue and I had an ongoing battle throughout the entire hour of the broadcast -- he held my book under his arm with the title facing the camera – it was a great opportunity. Only one problem, my publisher, Double Day, had shipped the wrong book to every bookstore in America. Instead of shipping The Secrets Men Keep, they sent Danielle Steel's book, The Secrets, to every bookstore in America.
It was an error on Double Days’ part that I, of course, had no idea I should have followed up with them to make sure my book was in fact being sent out. They were apologetic for years that the book could have been a smash bestseller; they could have sold thousands more copies, maybe even tens of thousands more copies, had they shipped the correct book.
CARINA: So what was the lesson in that mistake?
KEN: That it was important for me or somebody in my office to be involved at every checkpoint, and to coordinate all the moving parts with my publisher. You can’t just sit back and expect everything will be managed perfectly. You need to be hands-on, just like you would in a startup. You have to realize who’s covering the department called “the publisher.” Unless you’ve hired someone else to do it for you, you are the CEO in charge of all the critical moments of that book’s early life – from conception to birth and early childhood.
CARINA: I think that's one of the biggest lessons that all new authors learn -- they mistakenly think that when they get a publisher, everything is going to be handled and taken care of – that they don't have to have all hands on deck anymore. The reality is that there are so many moving parts and publishers and their staff are overwhelmed, overworked, pulled in many different directions, and you still have to be the executive in charge of your book.
KEN: Exactly. And you taught me that, as well as coaching me on how not to be a pain-in-the-ass author, but how to really be the executive, providing oversight, checking in respectfully, in a timely way that made my publisher feel like I was a collaborator rather than a nuisance. You taught me that getting along with my publisher was critical to the success of my books.
CARINA: So what’s your biggest confession? Readers are sometimes shocked to find out that authors are a certain way. Like, for example, I've had authors that really hate writing. What is it for you?
KEN: My confession is that through junior high school, high school, and college, I had a severe learning difference. They used to call them “disabilities,” but they're learning differences. Now we understand that it has nothing to do with being smarter or not, it just means your process for learning is different and may not align with how most schools teach.
My operating style is in the auditory form. Many of my books and much of my written work comes from me sitting down and recording my thoughts then having them transcribed and edited. I credit a lot of my writing to working with a brilliant editor; somebody who helped me learn how to structure a book seamlessly. She would help me get the bones of the book, from outline to flow state, so that I could serve my reader better and give them every consideration in how they best take in what I’m trying to say. I also started making audiobooks for people like me, who are more auditory in nature.
I can't tell you how many thousands of hours I labored and suffered, sitting there trying to write my book, rather than expressing myself taping it, then going back and having the tape transcribed.
A lot of people get stuck thinking they have to do it, you know, a certain way, that they have to just sit at their desk and focus on writing. And I don't think that works for everybody.
Often, I have my iPhone and I record hundreds of hours in voice memos. Even when I consult with other authors or clients that I'm coaching, I record and I send it to them so they can ingest what we've talked about on an auditory level. Then they can transcribe it and see it on a visual channel -- whatever helps them retain and capture the information so they can creatively express what they're learning and share it with the world.
CARINA: Actually, that’s what I’m doing now with this interview. I’m using Rev to record, but sometimes I also use Otter – both will send you an immediate transcript after the recording. It’s pretty amazing.
KEN: Thank you for that. There's another gift you just gave me.
CARINA: You’re welcome! Okay, so let’s talk about curiosity. What is Ken Druck currently curious about and spending time learning?
KEN: Well, first of all, my boss told me that I could take a year or two off. I've written three books in like, six, seven years. And my boss -- that's me -- gave me a very loving message: take the time you would spend writing your next book and spend it with your grandsons. They’re two and a half years old and in a very formative stage. You know, just let the creative expression in your life be to spend it with your grandsons and roll around on the floor or go to the park or take them to the beach or a baseball game or something. Because the first couple of years of their lives were spent in COVID world.
So that’s been number 1, but number 2 has really been to do a deeper dive into how we go on. After some of the things that are happening in our in world right now – how do we possibly go on? I talked to my new buddy Fred Gutenberg, whose daughter died in the Parkland, Florida shooting. And I’m really curious, at a deeper level, about how we go on. How we summon the strength and the faith, the understanding, the resilience, the spirit. And under what terms we can go on, that we elect to go on and to go forward, and to live out the rest of whatever time we have, in an honorable way and in a way that allows joy and beauty, and allows us to see not just the horrific, ugly, terrible losses, but the beauty and the miracles and the gifts.
CARINA: Yeah, it’s great that you have the ability to be with people during these times. They’re so lucky to have people like you who can understand but also be compassionate and help.
KEN: Something else I’m devoted to– and you and I have actually talked a lot about – is building bridges within communities of our very polarized nation. I’m exploring the various ways we come together to find common ground to solve real problems facing humanity. I’m at a point in my life where I’m serious about leaving this world a better place for my grandkids so they can enjoy the same privileges and joys I did, the same quality of life. Learning how to listen to each other, respectfully, and learning to be more honest and more truthful and less suspicious. I want to know how I can be ore like that myself – I mean, you’ve had to be the one to point out my own biases and judgement-laced writings. You’ve helped me see another way to look at things and forced me to reflect further before putting something out that may lose 50% of my followers because I did not offer a balanced view.
CARINA: That’s why it’s important for authors to surround themselves with a lot of different people with different opinions who are going to give you honest feedback, be critical, and even challenge your work at times.
KEN: Exactly, because all it takes is one sentence in the introduction of your book, or a subtitle, something for people to say, “that book is laced with things that I don't believe in.” It takes very little for a reader to put you in a box.
Norman Cousins was one of my mentors. And Norman used to tell me that the only important thing to keep in mind when writing a book is, do they want to turn the page? So I always ask myself, have you left them behind? Do you have a blind spot you’re not seeing? From the way I title a book, start a book, and invite a reader into the book, is there something that will make them want to put the book back on the shelf? Or that will make them turn away from it without giving it a second look?
CARINA: Right, which kind of comes back to your previous point of being able to have, you know, uncomfortable conversations where people are challenging each other and questioning each other but doing it in a respectful way.
KEN: Yeah, I think that's what worries me the most about the current polarized environment. I worry that we're losing that ability to challenge each other, but yet still hear each other. It's amazing that if we just simply listen to somebody and reflect back to them what you heard them say, giving them the experience of feeling understood, respected, valued, heard. Whether you disagree or not. Giving somebody that experience fosters trust, understanding, a feeling of connectedness, a feeling of optimism, and that this is a safe place for me, the safe place for me to hold an opinion and express my thoughts. And if I can give you that same gift back, my God, we've created a relationship. We're in a dialogue.
CARINA: Well, I hope you keep pushing in this area, because it's an important one. So what would you tell your younger author self?
KEN: I think it would be to say, “good job.” You know, “you're learning.” It's ok to live in a judgment free zone. It's ok to exercise self-compassion in what you're creating. We're all a work in progress. My slogan over the last couple of years has been, “take your foot off your throat and put your hand on your heart.” Practice kindness. You can throw in tough love and still be very direct with yourself, if it's done in a respectful, kind, supportive, encouraging, patient tone. Self-compassion facilitates the kind of creativity and productivity that we need to give birth to a book.
CARINA: that’s one of the main things I try to get people to understand, that becoming a successful author is a marathon, not a race. It’s a very long process. So where are you off to next?
KEN: I am planning my visit to Texas – I’m meeting with some of the town leaders and families in Uvalde, Texas.
CARINA: That’s heartbreaking. But again, they’re lucky to have you. Stay well, Ken. And say hello to Lisette for me.
KEN: I really appreciate that. Thank you, Carina. All my love to you and family, as well.
Find Ken at www.kendruck.com.
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