121 Kevin Hofmann
Author Kevin Hofmann joins us on this episode of The Author Inside You podcast to offer suggestions on how to write a memoir. He shares his fascinating interracial adoption story along with how he wrote, finished, and published his book in six months! Kevin is a great guest, and if you ever considered writing a memoir, then this episode is for you!
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[00:00:41]Matt: [00:00:41] Hello. I' , Rafferty.
[00:00:42] Joining us today is Kevin Hoffman and accomplished writer and public speaker who has a passion for adoption, especially transracial adoption. Kevin is the author of growing up, black in white.
[00:00:53] Leah: [00:00:53] Welcome, Kevin. Thanks for joining us today. Thanks for having me, Kevin, what can you tell us about your childhood?
[00:00:59] Kevin: [00:00:59] So it was a very unique childhood. I am the result of an affair between a white woman and a black man in the late sixties. They worked together at one of the plants in the Detroit area. Uh, they were happily married just to two different people. So, uh, at my birth, mother's white husband's assistance or insistence, uh, he insisted that.
[00:01:27] Basically, she put me up for adoption, so I was immediately put up for adoption, and three months later was adopted by white minister. His wife and I have, they have three children. Biological children. So I'm the youngest of four in that family, and that's where it begins. I was born two weeks after the riots in Detroit side is biracial, is biracial baby born into really a city that was still burning.
[00:01:53] Wow. And it was a direct result of the fact that the, the two races that I made up of could not get along. And so that's where the story begins.
[00:02:06] Begin your life, right? Yeah, yeah, exactly. And then you decided to write a book about it. Is that the. Yeah. So then probably I had been thinking about it. I was an adjuster and insurance adjuster, and then I would come home and make notes and think about what I was going to write. Well, back in 2009, I was laid off and so I had a whole lot of extra time.
[00:02:32] So we've been six months, uh, well within six months of being laid off. I wrote the book, finished the book, and publish the book. Wow. That's impressive. Yeah. And it went by quick, and it was just, I've always been a writer. I've always loved to just tell things in my own way, um, and just thought, wow, what an interesting story that not many people, you know, get to hear about.
[00:02:57] Um. And so I thought, wow, I think I could teach some lessons about what we did right, what we did wrong, and what we could have done better. It's interesting, one of the things I do besides write is I do a lot of training. So I will train adoptive and foster parents. And, uh, one thing I've looked into is, you know, racial identity and how kids as they develop, how they see race.
[00:03:20] And what I found, which was shocking to me, was that. Kids notice race as early as six months old. Wow. Yeah. And so I, I, yeah, I just knew I, I looked at them, you know, we lived in a suburb of Detroit for the first three years of my life when I was 11 months old. We woke up to a cross burning on our front yard.
[00:03:43] Um, yeah, 11 month old year. Um, yeah. So I somewhat felt I was a threat at 11 months. Um, and so, uh, we lived in that neighborhood three years after that. And then finally we moved. Moved to Detroit where my dad, he was an associate pastor at that church. We moved to Detroit. He becomes the head pastor of a church where the parsonage or the home where we lived was in a black neighborhood.
[00:04:13] So yeah, I was always around kids that looked like me, and so I always knew, okay, I did match my family and was that difficult in that neighborhood? Having white girl is great for me because, you know, I got to go out and just see kids that look like me every day. And, and that's the, that's the biggest thing about race that I've learned is that, you know, my experience in how I experienced life has a lot to do with race.
[00:04:40] And that doesn't make it. Better than anybody else's viewpoint. It just makes it a different experience. It was comforting for me to be around other kids that were experiencing life as I was, and I could say things simply like, man, I think that guy just treated me badly because I'm black, and all I wanted them to say was, that's a possibility, or you're not crazy.
[00:05:03] And that's what they would do. They would say, yeah, you're probably right, and then we move on our day. Wow. All right. So then getting back to writing the book. So you were laid off and you decided to write this book. You did it pretty quickly, and how did you find someone to publish it? So I had started looking for a publisher and I kept getting what I call these predator kind of calls where, you know, I was really excited.
[00:05:30] I was new to the game of being an author, and one guy was like, yeah, we can publish you and it only cost you this much. And I saw a man that doesn't sound right. It's so that I kept looking into it and finally decided, this is when CreateSpace was around back in 2010, which is the Amazon self publishing arm of Amazon.
[00:05:54] Um, and decided to go that route because it was quicker. I had more control. My royalties were better. I have a good friend that I grew up with. Knowing him for the last 40 years. He also wrote a book. He went the straight publisher route, and there's a huge difference between the freedom I have, the freedom he has, um, how much we make off each book and just thought that was a way better fit for me.
[00:06:18] Um, what do you think the biggest differences? I think it is the reputation and I went into that. Knowing I want, I don't want anyone to pick up this book and know that it's self published and I, you can do that. There are some books that you can just look at and know. And so that's what I really spent a lot of time on was I wanted this to sit along on the shelves of any, you know, regularly published book and you couldn't tell the difference.
[00:06:47] And I think, think I did that, I did it better. I. Did one edition back in 2010 went around the country speaking and everyone kept asking me questions about, you know, the life that I lived and were asking me very specific questions. Well, if this happens, what do you do? So I decided to go back, did a second edition, change the whole cover of the book.
[00:07:07] It's much better now. And then added a chapter that's probably another 40 pages at the end of the book. Yeah. So is that the biggest difference you think from a being able to tell a a self published book from a publishing. Company's book is, is the cover. Yeah. That's what really sunk into me was just, and especially back, this is 10 years ago, it seemed like everybody that was self publishing came out with these really glossy covers.
[00:07:36] It, I could just tell, and so probably the biggest mistake I made writing the book was I should have just broken down and paid a professional editor. I tried to do it. I had my mom do it. And that was another reason why I went back and did the second edition because there were just, I had a friend, we, I was trying to get into a bigger market as to who I could speak to.
[00:08:00] And so it was trying to get into schools and, uh, they were just simple mistakes that it just wasn't gonna work in school. So that's why I did revision. Did you hire an editor? Yeah, I went through their editor, but I just paid, you know. The extra money. I should have done that the first time. How did you ensure that your book cover was strong enough that it would look like a published book cover?
[00:08:25] So I went with the matte finish instead of gloss. Okay, that's good. Then the first cover I hit, I have a friend who's a graphic artist and he did it, and it was just. Again, 10 years ago, the technology wasn't there to do what it can do today, and so it just, it didn't flow right. And so I went to my mom and my wife and said, Hey, I should put a picture of myself on the cover when I was little.
[00:08:54] And it's the picture that my mom and my wife's favorite picture of me when I was five years old. I think it looks better. Oh, great. You don't. One thing I learned, which I think is huge, is if you're writing a memoir, of course a memoir's true. It involves other people to any author that's writing a memoir.
[00:09:14] Understand that people who you know that are in your book cause they're part of your life. They will do this to a T. They'll get the book and they'll flip through it, looking for their name to see where they come in and how they're portrayed. And that has been an issue with me. Like I said, I have a good friend who, who's also written a memoir, and it was an issue with him.
[00:09:39] Because members of our family did that. They went through the book, like I had sent the book out. It was done. It was about to go to the publisher on Monday. I sent it out on a Friday to my family and said, it's going if you've got something to say. So not a lot of time. Yeah. In my ma. My mom calls me early that next morning and she says, well, did you talk to your brother about.
[00:10:03] His experience growing up. And I said, well, it's a memoir and it's my memory. He could write a book. Oh yeah, that's what I said. I said, yay. He can write his own book if he wants to put his voice out there. So that was the biggest lesson I learned is just understand that that's just human nature. People are going to go through your book, see where they are, and see how you portrayed them.
[00:10:26] And that can go very well. Or it could go very badly. And so that was a huge lesson I learned, which was, and I, I get it more now. Back then I was too close to it, but now I get it. People just want to protect who they are and how they're seeing the, sure. Yeah. Well, Kevin, you talked about doing speaking engagements.
[00:10:46] How did you go about finding speaking engagements after you published the book? Honestly, it was cold calling people or emailing people. There's a university here and I was trying to get into, and that was the other thing. A lot of people think that you're right, the book, you're published the book, and you make all this money and it just doesn't happen like the book for me, and it took me probably eight years to figure this out, he just gives me street credit to go into different environments and talk.
[00:11:16] I would just cold call in and I was going in. Here was another mistake I made, which was my focus was too narrow. I was just looking at foster care and adoption, and I should have looked at the broader picture that comes with our story, which is race and racism. And so that's, then I started marketing towards schools, K through 12 universities, and I said, and I, my slant was.
[00:11:43] And I did this when I wrote the book. One of the purposes behind the book was I wanted to tell my experience as a person of color in this country and how I experienced life every day, and I knew I wanted to do that in a way that people wouldn't be put off. Or be offended by how I was talking about race.
[00:12:02] So it was very purposeful how I would talk about that. And that then again, allowed for a larger audience. And so this grew from just adoption and foster care to the subject of race and racism and diversity and inclusion. So now I go into K through 12 and universities and organizations, and we talk about diversity and inclusion.
[00:12:25] And one of the first calls I made was a university here. And. I went to the social work. Department and got the head of the social work department and was so fortunate. He called me in, I sat down and they used my book for a, all freshmen have to go through their, their school and take a multiculturalism class, which deals with race and racism.
[00:12:48] And so they took on my book as one of the textbooks for the class. Wow. Yeah. And I would go in once a term. For two or three different classes and get to talk to the kids, and they all read the book and they'd ask questions and yeah, it was an amazing experience, I would think, because as an author, you're getting feedback directly from your audience, and then, you know, I would think that you're also finding that, boy, what I wrote.
[00:13:22] Really is important. And that was the other thing that I had, you know, I'm still trying to digest is this thing is so much bigger than, than you. Um, yeah, there's a reason why you're here. Um, one of the parts of my story, which actually never made the book, cause I didn't know about it when I wrote this, but my mother, when she found out she was pregnant, actually went to her, her sister, and asked for money for an abortion and was given that money.
[00:13:51] And she had every intention of leaving this mobile home in Taylor, Michigan to go up to Flint, Michigan to have an abortion, which was an hour drive in somewhere between Detroit area and Flint. My mother changed her mind, chose to go home and tell her why her husband that she was pregnant by a black coworker and made the decision to have me.
[00:14:12] Wow. And so, yeah, there is so much bigger than me. I mean, I was less than an hour away from Porsche. Right? Yeah. Wow. And so that's what's really stuck home to me is, man, this is, this can speak to so many other people and help in an area, which I think, especially in this country, we need, we desperately need help in.
[00:14:35] And so that's been, the mission is to be bigger and better. That is really cool to have that kind of. The story that you can share with so many people and make an influence. That is really cool. Yeah. And that's, I guess the, the underlying theme for me when it comes to writing is, and I've always felt like this, is that everyone has a story.
[00:14:58] And so I'm, so, I'm fortunate cause you know, I can write so I could tell my own story. Um, but I still, I will say, not everyone's an author. You can be, have this great story, but not know how to present it. And I think a lot of authors do. People make that mistake that I had this great story and I'm going to put it out there and I learned that it.
[00:15:21] Makes a huge difference at what you put out there and how you put it out there. I'm talking about that. What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome during this process? Writing a memoir is very emotional and very draining, and I had to, it clicked after a while that when I didn't feel like writing.
[00:15:44] It wasn't writer's block. That was my body saying emotionally I needed to take a break. Um, and so I honor that more now. Uh, but it was, it's been a great experience for me. And again, everyone has a story. And what this has done for me, which has been amazing, is I've gotten to go all over the country and talk about this story.
[00:16:08] And it's actually so. It's free therapy. Actually. I get paid to talk about this stuff and work it out, and that's an amazing experience where I learned so much and I've healed so much over the years from just telling the story and people asking me questions and me thinking about what they're asking and then answer.
[00:16:27] I am a trainer for the state of Ohio, so I do. I train all over the state of Ohio and foster care and adoption. The doors really started open probably two or three years ago when I. Decided, okay, let's really push this. A lot of colleges have what's called first year experience where they bring all the freshmen in.
[00:16:46] They all read one book. And then they bring the author in to discuss the book, ask questions, sign the books. Two years ago I thought, wow, that would be a great Avenue. And then understood. At that point, man, my focus was in foster care and adoption, and I didn't realize that you're dealing mostly with nonprofit organizations or state run organizations that don't have any money, so they wanted me to come speak, but they always.
[00:17:15] And they would get me the first couple of years, which was, Hey, come speak and we'll give you a chance to sell books. So I traveled across the country to sell five books and it just wasn't worth it anymore. Right. So yeah, one of the biggest lessons I learned was to say, no. So is it possible to go full time and do, speaking as an author?
[00:17:36] It is tough. You've got to really work as many angles as you can. So. You know, I've added organizations K through 12 colleges and universities, and I still do adoption and foster care. That isn't, I'm still a, you know, an adjuster, you know, during the day. Okay, it's good extra money, but it's not paying the bills.
[00:18:04] No, and it, yeah. But I'm working my way towards those bigger paydays, and I think that just unfortunately, you just have to, you know, pay your dues. Maybe not monetarily, but your experiences are out of this world. Yes. And quite honestly, it just feels like man, and just one break away from really. Opening this up.
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[00:19:34] So if you're looking for a beta reader or some like-minded writers, check out dot com what kind of advice would you give somebody who's working on a memoir? Listen to what your body's telling you. There's a reason why you may not feel like writing today and it may because maybe because yesterday was a very emotional day and it's going to take you time to process it.
[00:19:57] Understand writing a memoir doesn't only affect you, it affects everybody else that's in that memoir. And just understand that you, you're going to be really excited about publishing this, but someone might not be too excited about how you've portrayed them. Tell us about, about the writing process of your, so this is interesting.
[00:20:15] So I said, okay, I'm going to write the book. So I called my mom and dad up and said, Hey, I'd like to come interview you and I want to hear you know, your side of the story. And that was when I was told about the cross burning incident. I didn't know that until then. And so then for me, I was like, well, that's where the book starts.
[00:20:37] And so the book does open up to that scene, but it was, it was interviewing my mom and dad who was interviewing my mom's mom, who had a real difficult time with, you know, bringing this child of color into her family. And I didn't interview any other family members because really this was a story. I bought our family, but it had to do a lot more with me, my relationship with my mom and dad, you know, and other people.
[00:20:59] So I didn't interview siblings. Well, Kevin, what's the biggest piece of advice that anybody gave you about writing a book? That was the frustrating thing. I reached out to several authors who would never, and I wasn't, I wasn't reaching out to like Stephen King. They were like just local people. Nobody.
[00:21:18] Nobody would give me any help. That's certainly disheartening. Yeah, it was. And so anytime someone asks me for help. Very open to giving them home. Wow. That's just, that's it. That just made my heart sing. That's crazy. Yeah. I was, I would, again, I was just cold calling people and I would, I was sticking with local people cause I thought, okay, sure we got that local connection.
[00:21:43] But yeah, no, they never, I'd never got any response. Well, Kevin, two last questions. Where can we purchase your book and how can people reach out and get in touch with you? Uh, so my website is my name, Kevin Hoffman, H. O. F. M. A. N. N. So if you just go to Kevin hoffman.com, you could buy the book. There's t-shirts that I made, uh, that have to do with diversity and inclusion that around that website.
[00:22:10] Examples of me speaking and the different things that I do. Uh, the book is also available on Amazon. Kendall. And I just finished the audible version late last year producing that. How did that go? Interesting. So it was just, you know, I called a guy up at a sound studio and Toledo and said, Hey, would you record me?
[00:22:32] And he had, he had done one or two other books, and so I went over a period, it's probably three or four weeks. And I think each time I would go in and read three or four chapters and then he put it all together and you got to, there's certain requirements that audible has as far as sound and all those technical things.
[00:22:52] Fortunately, the guy that produced it, he took care of all that for me. It hasn't been worth it. Yeah, it has. It was really, Oh, so here's the interesting part of reading that was, I really struggled early on in the book reading it. Because I'm talking about life before I remembered it, and so I'm talking about that cross burning in the yard, but I was 11 months old, so I didn't remember that.
[00:23:17] So my life before I remembered it was much harder to read. What? Once I got into probably four or five when I had vivid memories. Then you see my personality come out. It's just a whole different change, which I never thought. Never thought about, but yeah, those, there's chapters where I really wasn't involved.
[00:23:40] People were telling me what was happening. They were harder to read for me, harder to read with emotion and, and just, you know, just to put some personality into it. Well. Thank you Kevin, for taking the time to speak with us today. We really appreciate it. Thank you. Thanks for having me. I had a great time.
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