Natalie Silverstein is the author of Simple Acts: The Busy Family’s Guide to Giving Back. We caught up with her recently to ask some questions—about her book and her writing process—and here’s what she had to say:
1. How did you come up with the idea for your book?
Simple Acts: The Busy Family’s Guide to Giving Back is really a guide book for parents who want to raise kind, compassionate, grounded, and grateful kids. It’s the book I wish I had when my kids were little. The idea for the book came from my long quest to find meaningful, family-friendly volunteer opportunities for my family. When my kids were small, I couldn’t believe that I had difficulty finding nonprofits that would welcome us as volunteers. We had so much to give, and it felt like doors were closed to us. I made it my mission to open those doors and to find ways for parents with young children to give back in meaningful ways. I became the New York City representative of Doing Good Together, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that provides resources for parents who want to raise kids who care and contribute. I became the “volunteer lady” in my community.
Friends and strangers would reach out all the time, asking for ideas, tips, and resources so that their family could engage in this important work. I think all parents intuitively understand, as I always have, that giving kids the opportunity to notice the needs of others, and to find ways to help, is the only way to teach empathy and gratitude. As I got deeper into this work and became a human Rolodex of these ideas, I quickly realized that parents were hungry for the information—they just lacked the time and bandwidth to search for it.
2. How long did it take you to write the book? What was the hardest/most challenging part of the writing process?
I love telling my writing/publishing story because I hope it inspires people (young and old) to follow their gut and to never give up. When I had the idea to write this book, I wasn’t working outside of the home, and I had never published anything (not even an article online). I didn’t have an agent or ANY sense of how to get a book published. So, I researched how to write a nonfiction book proposal, and I showed my proposal to some friends who are published authors. Everyone gave me positive feedback, and other moms told me this was a book they would buy and would gift to other people. I was encouraged, but totally naive.
After being rejected by several agents, I decided to research publishers in the nonfiction space. I found a few with similar titles and I decided to send my proposal to them—totally cold, in a brown envelope addressed “to whom it may concern.” Miraculously, one of them responded! An editor at Gryphon House opened my envelope, read my proposal, and championed my book to her colleagues. She was a mother who understood the importance of volunteering with her own son. The lesson here is pretty clear: if you think you have a great idea for a book—fiction or nonfiction—it’s very possible that someone out there will agree with you and give you a shot. You just have to do the work, demonstrate your passion, stay positive, and keep trying.
3. Are you working on anything else?
I’m really excited about my next book, Simple Acts: The Busy Teen’s Guide to Making a Difference, which will be published by Free Spirit Press in early 2022. Almost immediately after publishing Simple Acts (which is geared toward family’s with young children), I received feedback that teens needed to hear this message as well. Parents know that teens spend way too much time staring at devices, isolated and disconnected from meaningful personal relationships—especially over the last year as we’ve dealt with the pandemic.
All teens, regardless of their circumstances, would benefit from a practical, actionable book that doesn’t talk down to them but provides tips to inspire their passion for service. As a parent of teens myself, I totally understood. Research clearly shows that people who volunteer live happier, healthier lives, and teens who volunteer are more connected, less isolated, and more self-confident. They do better in school and engage in fewer risky behaviors. I hope the book will reassure young people that they don’t need to quit school, sail across the ocean and address the United Nations to make a meaningful impact on the world. There are small, simple things they can do in their day-to-day lives to help others, and doing so will make them feel great, too.
4. Describe yourself in three words.
On my good days, and when I feel like the best version of myself, I’d say I am:
Thoughtful (and kind)—sorry that’s four, but kindness is sort of the glue that holds it all together.
5. What books are currently on your nightstand/bedside table?
I love having stacks of books on my bedside table! I only wish I had more time to read them. Right now my stack includes Let’s Talk About Hard Things by Anna Sale, A Rhythm of Prayer by Sarah Bessey, The Last Apothecary by Sarah Penner, and Homegoing by Gya Yaasi. For inspiring stories about the power of kindness and community, I like to skim through Channel Kindness, compiled by Lady Gaga and the Born The Way Foundation.
Natalie Silverstein, MPH, is a writer, speaker, consultant, philanthropist, and passionate advocate for family and youth service. She is the New York representative of Doing Good Together, a national nonprofit that helps parents raise kids who care and contribute, and the author of two books—Simple Acts: The Busy Family’s Guide to Giving Back and Simple Acts: The Busy Teen’s Guide to Making a Difference (2022).
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