What Selling Lemonade Can Teach Us About Writing

A friend invited me to the summer tenth birthday party of his daughter. As the after-candles cake slices were placed in front of us, Lisbeth exclaimed, “Dad! How about doing a lemonade stand!” I looked at Jon’s face. It went from a second of instant dismay, knowing he’d have to oversee and shepherd the project, to an enthusiastic smile.

“Okay, honey. Great idea, but do you know what we have to do?”

(How do you make money writing articles for magazines?)


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Author, editor, ghostwriter, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne publishes fiction and nonfiction in print and online venues. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle for over 28 years has assisted doctoral candidates to complete their dissertations (finally). Her practical -psychological-spiritual handbook in progress helps them: Grad U: Complete Your Dissertation—Finally—and Ease the Trip for Yourself and Everyone Who Has to Live With You. Noelle’s book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books) is featured on Unity Books’ Goodreads group, with discussions and free author webcast on June 26, 2013, 7-8p Eastern. In Trust Your Life, Noelle uses examples from her practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers let go of regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Noelle is an invited regular guest blogger for Author Magazine’s “Authors’ Blog,” starting May 2013. In her blog she explores writing, creativity, and spirituality, http://authormagazineonline.wordpress.com/




“Sure,” she said, digging into her three-layer triple fudge-mint-chocolate-chip ice cream cake slice. “We get a table, make lemonade, and print a sign. We can put our table by the building pool on weekends.”

“There’s a lot more to it than that, honey,” Jon said. And he patiently explained the steps—getting permission from the high-rise building manager, buying frozen lemonade, getting some real lemons for better taste, rounding up pitchers, mixing small batches, locating a cooler for ice, buying sturdy-enough paper cups, making an eye-catching sign, keeping records of expenses and income, and showing up at the same time every weekend day.

Lisbeth stopped eating and stared at him. He continued, “And you’ve got to stand outside in the sun for a good two to three hours each time. Are you still up for it?”

She thought for a moment and took a forkful of cake. “I can charge a dollar a drink. How about adding cookies and raisin packets?”

Well, they did it, for six weekends. Two people even asked if they’d come back in the fall. My friend sacrificed the prime of his weekend afternoons watching over the stand and running inside to the refrigerator to get the reserves. Lisbeth made $55.00 almost every weekend and learned a lot of lessons. So did I.

I noticed how Jon responded to his daughter’s idea—he didn’t rule it out or ridicule it but took her request seriously. He answered with consideration and kindness. Yet he pointed out the realities: forethought, planning, preparation, hard work, and sweating in the sun.

Jon’s example spurred me to reconsider my responses when fellow writers asked for my critiques. Recently reading a colleague’s memoir, at the opening pages I reacted like Jon initially—instant dismay. How could my friend write this crap? Then I recalled Jon’s next response: he recognized his daughter’s honest desire and took it seriously.

With trepidation, I approached my friend’s work, not wanting to “offend.” But I realized I had to honor both myself and him by being honest—as Jon was in listing the needed and maybe less-than-pleasant requirements of the lemonade project.

So I dove into my friend’s memoir. Happily, I found passages to praise and evidence of real talent. I interspersed these with my appraisal of the parts that seemed superficial, awkward, and obtuse.

(Should you mention self-published books when querying an agent?)

Two days after I sent him the critique, my colleague called. He exclaimed, “Finally! Criticism I can use!” Others who had read the book, he said, had “massaged” him and overpraised his work. But he knew better. “Thank you! You helped me see the flaws. Now I’ll jump into the editing.”

“Great,” I said, feeling relieved and validated at my decision.

So, every time another writer risks entrusting me with the fruit of his or her imagination, and every time I’m tempted to be meaner and smaller, I think of Jon. And I remember, and act on, the precious lessons from the lemonade stand. I want to show I believe in their desire and ability to improve their writing.



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