Sarah BurletonName: Sarah Burleton

Business name: Sarah Burleton

Book Title(s): Why Me, What It Is, Why Them, Why Her, Anorexic Annie

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How did you come to do what you’re doing today?

After Why Me hit New York Times bestseller status and local newspapers found out, I was contacted by Prevent Child Abuse Illinois. They were hoping that I could come speak to some of their employees for a half hour about my book, my past, and any insight I could give on preventing child abuse. That little speech must have inspired many in the room because afterward, my email blew up and I started speaking to larger crowds all over the state. I am honored that my little story enables me to get out and give a voice to those who feel that they cannot speak for themselves.

Can you describe a typical day in your life?

Well, I have two young boys, so a majority of my daytime hours are spent breaking up fights and cleaning up muddy shoeprints. But when my oldest is in school and my youngest is napping, I am usually answering emails, Facebook messages, or writing blogs for various sites. Night time till dawn is when I can finally focus on writing my next book (do I ever sleep?). I usually travel out of the area 5-6 times a month to speak to organizations, schools, foster children, and other professionals who have contacted me to speak.

What do you most enjoy about what you do?

I love speaking to the kids. It almost brings me to tears when I look out and see young eyes, abused eyes, looking up to me for their inspiration. It is so humbling to be that “hero” for a child, that person that they chose to look up to for help and guidance for getting through their terrible childhoods. I am honored that I am able to help so many young children/teens, to be that person that they look up to for hope of a better future.

Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey?

David Pelzer, New York Times bestselling author of A Child Called It, is my ultimate inspiration. When I was a child and I read his book for the first time, I suddenly didn’t feel alone anymore. I felt like someone understood what it was like to get abused like I did and understood the physical and mental pain I endured. So imagine what an honor it was when I got his endorsement on the back of my book cover. His endorsement of my little story was a greater privilege to me than making the New York Times. 

What is your latest book about?

My latest book is about divorce. Unfortunately, my marriage didn’t work out and as always, I work through my emotions by writing. It’s therapeutic for me. 

What inspired you to write your book?

I decided to write my first book, with no dreams of publishing it, after my first son was born. I was struggling with coming to terms with my abusive past and trying to be the best mom I could be to my little boy. In an attempt to put my past behind me, I sat down and wrote my childhood story. It was something completely therapeutic and once I was finished, I thought that my story could help someone else who may have had a mom like mine. I Googled self-publishing; Amazon was the first link, and I uploaded my book, figuring if one person read it, then I did my job. Little did I know that that simple upload would garner New York Times bestseller status, four more books, and speaking all over the state to kids who live in abusive environments.

Can you describe your writing process?

My writing process is intense once my idea hits and I start typing. I get an idea and any spare second I get during the day, I spend writing. I will stay up until the sun comes up, grab an hour of sleep, and write as much as I can until the boys wake up. Once my idea hits and I know what I want to say and I know my first sentence, I obsess about it until it’s done. I have a very bad habit of editing as I go, which definitely slows me down, but I can’t help myself!

As you mentioned, your independently published memoir Why Me appeared on the New York Times bestseller list in 2011. Can you describe that experience?

That was a shock—I thought they would send a letter or something, but I found out I was on the New York Times when I Googled my name one day. I knew I was selling a lot of books on Nook and Amazon, but I was ignorant of how books got onto the Times and assumed (until I saw my name) it was just a list for famous authors. Week after week, my book stayed on that list and every Sunday I would drive to the local newsstand in town and pick up my copy of the Times to see what number I was that week. During that time, my book was on the Good Morning America top 10 self-help book list; I was contacted by Raw Television productions and pitched to the OWN network to be part of a series highlighting ten inspirational women; and I was contacted by numerous publishers.

Despite receiving offers from traditional publishers after your book appeared on the NYT bestseller list, you decided to remain independently published. Can you share with our readers what factors went in to making that decision? 

Why Me is my life story, and selling the rights away would be like selling my life away to the highest bidder. The highest offer I received was $100,000, but the publishers wanted to “fluff’ up my life story. Every single chapter in Why Me are incidents that I remember with absolute clarity and were the memories that still gave me nightmares long after I moved away from home. To “fluff” up my story and try to fill in space to make my book a bit longer would take away the brutal honesty that I believe made my book such a success. I decided that I would keep my life in my hands and out of the hands of the publishers for the time being. 

You describe writing memoir as therapy. What, in your opinion, are some ways writers can use memoir writing or other forms of writing as a healing experience? 

I relate memoir writing to diary writing and when I wrote Why Me, it was almost as if I was a teenager again, writing down my horrible memories into my beat-up, red, spiral notebook. It’s the greatest opportunity to be completely honest and express exactly how you feel with no fear of judgment. And as a writer finishes each chapter of his/her memoir, the feeling is almost one of a door closing on that chapter of his/her life. That chapter is done, written, and there is nothing else to say; it’s time to move on. Write for yourself, and you’ll be surprised how many others you end up helping. 

Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

I was flying Cessna 172 airplanes when I was 15 years old. And I’m terrified of frogs.

What’s next for you?

I’m actually watching my email like a hawk waiting for an agent I’ve been dreaming about representing me to get back to me after she requested my full manuscript. I’m writing my next book about divorce, which is going well and I’m hoping for a late spring/early summer release. I’m speaking, doing book signings at Barnes and Noble stores in Illinois and Iowa, and trying my best to spread my message of strength over adversity and to educate the public on child abuse prevention. I am beginning work with local legislators, with the goal to reform what is still a broken Child Protective Services system here in Illinois. I’ve also been kicking around the idea of doing a documentary about child abuse; I want the public to see what so many children have to deal with in silence day after day; night after night.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It’s my favorite Robin Williams quote from Dead Poets Society:

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”