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Ep#15 Am I Famous Enough? Writing a niche book with Alo Johnston

EP 15 “Am I Famous Enough? Writing a niche book with Alo Johnston”

Welcome back to You Did That!. In this episode, we have a special guest joining us, Alo Johnston (he/him), to share his incredible journey of self-discovery, writing, and navigating the publishing world. Discover how his writing took a unique turn, defying the traditional self-help book genre, and how his expertise in working with transgender individuals brought a fresh perspective to his work.

Alo Johnston is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Am I Trans Enough?: How to Overcome Your Doubts and Find Your Authentic Self. He particularly loves working with trans, queer, and non-monogamous clients. He is based in downtown Los Angeles and when he’s not working he’s often busy exploring the restorative power of naps.

Main Topics:

  • Embracing unexpectedness
  • The process of writing and publishing
  • Gender transition and experiences
  • Creating a unique self-help book
  • Personal journey and unexpected joy

When did you realize you were writing a book?

Alo: So I started writing in November 2020.  It was a boring and also scary time, but I had so many clients at that point because so many people were sitting alone with their thoughts figuring out maybe I’m queer, maybe I’m trans. So I was getting all these emails. I was getting all these people trying to work with me and I was having to turn people away more than I’ve ever had to do in my life. 

As I turned away many clients, I began considering writing my thoughts down as a resource for those I couldn’t work with. Initially, I thought it would be just an article, but I began to realize that what I was creating was more than just an article—it was a self-help book.

What did you do when you were writing this book and how long was the process for you?

Alo:  I very much should keep it to myself, kind of person, and I’m trying to find the middle ground where I’m not gonna keep things from my friends, especially this major thing that took such a long time. Like, you need encouragement along the way because I think I did this about as quickly as you could. 

So it was a multi-year process from  starting to write to the publisher agreeing to publish it. And then it actually being a book that people can buy. That is years long no matter how fast you do it. So I think I quickly realized, like, oh, I need support along the way. But my desire was not to say anything until there’s a book and you can buy it in stores.

I started in 2020, almost exactly a year later, I had been sending it out, I was trying to get agents. The agent process is interesting because they really want to make sure that you have an audience. And people kept looking at my social media and being like, I don’t know if you have a big enough following. And I was like, I hate this. I hate this very much. So I just started sending it directly to publishers. So exactly a year after I started writing, I had a publisher say that they were interested in publishing it. So that was a year, and then it was about another year of editing with them and all of the stuff where they’re designing the cover and doing the copywriting type things and indexing and all the boring behind the scenes things that I never really thought about until I actually wrote something. So it took about 2 years exactly from start to end, which again I think was very, very fast.

I’m really glad I didn’t know how long the process would take because I think I would have gotten discouraged and gave up. It wasn’t a book, but it was book length.  I’ve already done too much. I can’t give up now. And that was like every single part of the process, the editing, the dealing with publishers and the marketing too.

How much would you say your clinical work influenced your writing?

Alo: My personal experience sort of started a lot of these thoughts, of course. A lot of my therapist journey and my transition journey have been aligned. I was working my 1st traineeship at the LA LGBT Center, and they gave me every trans client, which I was fine with, but I also was like, shouldn’t everyone else know how to work with trans people too? But that meant that I was relatively early in my own Medical transition process, and I was working with people who were at similar places or further ahead back in their questioning. 

So I think I got a lot of  context to my own thoughts and feelings along the way. But I think the thing that has been really, really cool is being able to work with people long term because there’s a lot of specialists, doctors and surgeons and people who work with trans patients, who see them for these  little tiny blips of time. And often, at the very early stage of someone’s getting on hormones or something, and that’s kind of it.

It’s not a consistent thing. So I think being able to work with people for 2 years or 3 years or 5 years and watching a lot of people sort of have the roller coaster of, like, I don’t know if I want this, or I’m gonna start hormones and then I’m gonna stop hormones or I’m debating having surgery. And I think being able to see the long term experiences of that with a lot of people has been really amazing because I don’t think a lot of people have that context.   

I for sure don’t think I have a level of expertise that no one could have, but I think I have a level of context of, I’ve just worked with so many trans people for such a long time that I think I have consolidated data in a way that most people have not. And I think that’s what I can bring to this. And I also think I’m a person who’s very good at sort of taking the pieces and finding the big picture.

So I think that the best part of what I am bringing to this is my own life experience and then my clinical experience. I’ve worked with people who’ve had similar questions to me, and I’ve worked with people who’ve had bigger questions than me or longer term questions since then.

What is something that has surprised you the most?

Alo: I absolutely knew I was not writing this book for fame or fortune. It’s first of all very niche. It is absolutely never gonna be a book that’s sold in an airport bookstore. It’s not mainstream. But I think there was sort of this belief of like the better your book is the more successful it will be. There’s so many factors that are out of your control that I think I had to do everything I could to make it the best product that it could be.And also it will be an acceptance that I still am not in control of how well this book sells. Like there’s so many factors, there’s so many things, the world is so large that I write it and I put everything that I can into it. And then, you know, it’s sort of out of my hands.

And I think in lots of ways, I think this has been true in my like transition experience as well. Some of the things a lot of people I thought were going to come through for me, disappointed me and let me down, some of the people that I absolutely never expected to come through for me were like huge advocates for me. I think the same has been true with the book where like the people that I thought would be the huge supporters haven’t always been. And the people that I was like, oh, I thought we were like, acquaintances have been such helpful advocates and people who are just like, oh, I talk about your book all the time.

So I think it’s just like being open to that experience and not holding on to it like this experience has to be how I imagine it and what I think it will be in my own mind because you will be very surprised. 

If your younger self could see you now, what would they think?

Alo: I was just thinking about that in relation to the going to Vegas part because I was very into the beatniks as a teenager, which looking back, I was just your average teenage boy who had no idea that I was your average teenage boy. But I think if you told me you would be driving out to Vegas to write your book, that part would be like, oh, cool. But also feels aligned with what I was doing and thinking at, like, 15, 17. But if you were like, that book is gonna be about trans mental health. I would be like, what? So, I think there is very much a part of me that would be like, oh, yeah, that makes sense.

And there’s another part of me that would be like, that is not at all the direction that I thought it was gonna go in. So I think I’d be excited.  I think I found a kind of joy that I didn’t think was gonna be possible in my life.

So I think my younger self would be deeply confused, but also would be like, oh, you found a way to be happy. So I hope that that is what after the initial shock of this is a very different life than I thought you were gonna live, it would be exciting.

How can people learn more about your book and get their hands on a copy of it?

Alo: You can find my book on Amazon, Bookshop.com, Barnes and Noble, and various other outlets. I would recommend avoiding Amazon for personal and political reasons. It’s also available at some libraries and bookstores, although I don’t have specific information about which ones. Interestingly, it’s in some Barnes and Noble stores but not others; I’m not sure how they make those decisions. If your local library doesn’t have it, I encourage you to request it, as it would provide more accessibility to people in your area. This is especially exciting for young teenagers who may not have the means to purchase a copy but can borrow it from the library.

Learn more about Alo Johnston:

Website:  alojohnston.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thetranstherapist/

I hope you enjoy this episode!

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